SCA - Class 9
Thank you for joining me for yet another class of the Sheriff’s Citizens Academy as we learn about Child Abuse and Cyber Crimes.
Arriving at class about 6:20, we took our usual seats in the middle row and were soon handed our printout for the first half of class. Two other members joined the eight of us already there, but we were missing several of the usual members. Sgt. Davis said that since we had a lot to cover, we’d go ahead and get started. “Before, we’ve done this evening in two classes, but we decided to combine it this time and see how it goes.”
Detective Tim Williams introduced himself and mentioned that he had been working in Child Investigations for quite a long time but had just traded places with Detective Ed Bailey who was working Cyber Crimes. So, both the instructors for the evening were teaching what they had done for years and not what they were doing currently.
“Child abuse has been going on for most of recorded history. It’s in the Bible when the firstborns were burned to a god and when Pharaoh ordered the firstborns killed, and it has continued,” Det. Williams began. “One reason child abuse has been around for so long is that for centuries people viewed wives and children as not much more than property.”
In the state of Missouri, do you know who has the authority to remove a child from a home? No, it’s not Child Division. (I think that is a branch or form of Family Services.) It is only law enforcement, a judge or medical person (such as in the case of an ambulance finding an injured child in a ditch and not knowing where they came from or who they are). Most people don’t know that. Not even those working in Child Division. “Every officer in this sheriff’s department knows now,” Det. Williams said, “because I’ve hammered it into them.”
The removal of a child from a home is only the last resort and if the child’s safety is unsure. And, as a rule, if one child is removed, all the children are removed, unless they are 17. “Legally we can’t remove a child if he or she is 17. So, as much as we may hate to leave that one child in a home, we can’t remove them.”
Some things Det. Williams talked about for why they might remove a child were if the infant was born testing positive for meth. “In my opinion all positive drug tests of an infant should be cause for instant removal,” he told us, “because the mother was already under the influence of drugs before the child was born, so what makes anyone think that she’ll give it up when she takes her child home?” Another reason is “failure to thrive.”
A lot of people get scared when a child has a large bruise, but in Jasper County, Det. Williams told us, “I keep an open mind when it comes to bruises because, let’s face it, all kids get bruises or break their bones. It just happens. Especially if a child is learning to walk and is still young, they are going to get more bruises than an older child who is more coordinated. Sometimes bruises are caused by the medication the child is on. If the parents can’t tell me where a bruise or injury came from, or change their story about how it happened, say that a sibling must have done it or the babysitter, those things raise red flags.” They will also look for signs or marks of abuse. (One guy who had actually broken his baby’s ribs by shaking the child and squeezing too tight told one story of what happened, but Det. Williams told him the facts didn’t fit. So, what does the guy do? He says, “Well, let me try this one.” And proceeds to tell a new story which also didn’t fit the facts. Finally, after about six different stories, he finally told the truth.)
When an officer or detective is interviewing a child for abuse, whether physical or sexual, he has to be very careful not to ask leading questions, but to let the child tell what happened, if anything. “We have many cases where one parent is trying to get custody of a child, so they pretend that the other parent is abusing the child. “Usually when we’re talking to the child,” Det. Williams said, “we’ll ask him some questions and he’ll say, ‘I don’t know.’ Then after a little longer we’ll find that someone told the child to say that he’d been abused. ‘Who told you to say that?’ ‘I’m not supposed to tell.’ Then we ask, ‘What aren’t you supposed to tell?’ and the child tells us everything.” (And the parent gets in trouble.)
We had a little more about child abuse and a little about the Children’s Center that we have in the county. “They are so great,” we were told. “They’ll let us in any time day or night. In other counties it may take a few days before they can get a child there and by then any evidence on the child would be mostly gone.”
As soon as Det. Williams finished (He really had to rush through the last part.), Detective Ed Bailey came up. He introduced himself and told us that he’d been working in Cyber Crimes and Internet Safety for many years. “In fact, I worked for 6 years and posed as a 13-year-old girl online and put 87 men behind bars during that time.”
He asked the class if anyone wasn’t on facebook. Dad and I raised our hands. (He told us later that we were the only smart ones in class.) He also asked if anyone didn’t have an iPhone or a smartphone. Again, Dad and I raised our hands. “You guys are behind the times,” Det. Bailey laughed. His next question was who had wireless Internet at home. Everyone did. “Does anyone not have it password protected?” One guy raised his hand. There was a little debate between the the detective and our classmate about whether or not Det. Bailey could get into his server. (I’m sure he could.)
You know, back “a long time ago” people had to have face to face conversations with someone or talk on the phone where there wasn’t much privacy and a limited amount of time. (What if someone else needed to make a phone call?) Now, however, everyone has a phone (even young children) and you can talk as long as you’d like wherever you like. And texting? Well, back then it was done by typing a letter out on a typewriter, putting the paper in an envelope, sticking a stamp on and dropping it in the mail. Three days later your friend receives it, reads it, types a reply and mails it back to you. Now? Well, you certainly don’t have to take the time to mail something and usually the answer comes in a few seconds. And nowadays there are even “Text & Learn” toys for 4+! (Thanks, but I’d rather children learned how to communicate with real words to real people and learn to spell real words! I mean, does it not bug you when you are trying to have a real conversation with someone and they keep pulling out their phone and sending off text messages and reading the ones that just came in?) And now they have “smart phones” for 6-36 month olds!
I could give you a bunch of statistics about what percentage of children and teens give what information on the internet and what percentage of parents don’t supervise their children's’ internet activities at all and those who don’t do much after they are 14, but I think you’d all skip it. So, I’ll just tell you things. (If you want to know those things, just ask.)
If you have any kind of profile online, set it to private or be very careful what information you put on it. Your first name is fine and even a last name isn’t bad, but where you live, the school you attend, how old you are and what your personal e-mail address is are not wise. Also, NEVER include your cell phone number! (If you have one.) And don’t tell others what your password is! (You’d probably be amazed at how many young people do that.)
Do you have your picture up on your profile? What is in the background? What is in the background of other pictures you may have posted? You may not think there is anything, but go look again. If whatever is behind you has any calendar of where you might be, any colors of what restaurant you were in or a sports game where you were at (if you were in your home town), someone could find you that you don’t want to find you. (Believe me, there are bad guys out there who are really smart and willing to make an effort to find just the victim they want.) Det. Bailey showed us how much information he discovered on several facebook pages where the person thought they weren’t sharing much. It doesn’t have to be much and it can be so spread out that you may not notice it, but predators will. And remember, once you put something on the internet, it’s there forever.
And a few more words of advice, never accept “friends” on facebook or other social media sites that you do not know personally. They may not be who they say they are.
“I was going to go do a presentation at a high school,” Det. Bailey told us, “and a few days before I went, I created a facebook account for a fictional person. I made him a high school student who had just moved into the area and was attending the high school I would be visiting. (He showed us the page.) The guy wasn’t sure if he liked it there or not and asked for some friends. Within five minutes of putting this profile up, I had three people accept his friend request. By the time I went to the school, I had over 400 ‘friends’. (And remember, not one of those kids had ever met the guy they “friended.” (Is that what you call it?)) Two minutes before I went into the classroom, I had the profile picture of the “kid” changed to a sheriff’s badge. When I got up to talk, I told all the kids in the room to pull this kid’s profile up.
“See, not everyone is who they say they are even when they have pictures up. Remember, I was a ‘13-year-old girl’ for six years.”
If your parents are supervising your internet access, be thankful and never think that you are safe because it’s never happened to you before. If anyone on the internet starts to talk to you about things you know aren’t appropriate, even as a joke, tell your parents or an adult you trust at once!
Det. Bailey told us that X-Boxes were also dangerous and those using them make easier targets for the predators since you play games with strangers all around the world and listen to them through headphones and no one else can hear. “There are many cases where a child was playing an X-Box and suddenly they just got up, walked outside and disappeared,” he told us, “because the person they were playing with told the child to meet him down the street and they’d go have fun.”
Another word of advice, stay away from social networking sites such as chat rooms because you do not know who the real person is you are chatting with. They may be who they say they are, but many times they are not.
There was so much more that was covered in class, but it would take much too long to tell you everything. Did you know that one picture of child pornography is worth 5 years in prison and one video is worth 77 pictures? (You can do the math.) Did you know that one picture on facebook of you and your dad with just a little bit of a car showing, can give a predator enough information to find your dad and follow him home from work? Did you realize that in today’s world, a guy doesn’t have to work up enough courage to walk up to a girl and ask her out? All he has to do is send a text. Did you know that seven-year-olds are now going around with a personal cell phone, taking pictures, videos and sending text messages? I could go on, but I won’t.
If you are interested in learning more about internet safety, visit www.netsmartz.org or www.wiredsafety.org And remember, once you put something online, it’s there forever!
Thanks for coming with me to class; stay safe online. Join me again, not next week, but the week following as we have our first class about Criminal Investigations. It should be fun! Until then, this is Rebekah.