Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell took the unusual step of posting an open letter to parents warning about the "nexus" between nude photos posted by teenaged girls and boys on the Internet and sexual predators that his department is tracking. McDonnell held a press conference last week to highlight the "horrific nature and the sheer number of human trafficking cases that involve children and young teens taking nude photos of themselves and sending them over the internet.
"What may have started as a copycat of an online trend is now manifesting itself as a nexus between our teens and the predators who seek to exploit them for profit," he said.
The open letter is posted on the official Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department page on Facebook.
In 2015, the LASD HTB and its co-located partners in the Los Angeles Regional Task Force on Human Trafficking, investigated 519 cases that involved nude photos of girls and boys as young as 8 years old. These photos are forever circulating in cyberspace. Of these cases, one in four photos involved young teenage girls and boys who had taken nude "selfies," perhaps as an "act of love" for a boyfriend or girlfriend, an act of teenage rebellion, a cry for attention, or did so because they were duped by someone posing as a friend or teenage acquaintance. All too often, these images end up on the internet or in the hands of child predators, some of whom actually make contact with these children with specific intent of luring them into a relationship, extorting them for additional photos and videos, or in some cases, even money. These cases slice across all socio-economic and racial lines.
Year to date in 2016, in just a two-and-a-half month period of time, LASD HTB detectives investigated 81 cases involving nude and compromising photographs and videos of our young children and teens on the internet. The quantity of these images number in the thousands. Online forums and websites that market themselves as platforms where these images 'disappear' are very misleading; let me be clear; these images NEVER disappear. They are forever present on the internet, viewed and traded like baseball cards by child molesters, predators, and extortionists, many of whom re-post these nude images on file sharing sites, exponentially exposing these inappropriate and illegal images of a young girl or boy. Afterward, our young victims often fall into deep depression and have suicidal feelings which stay with them for a lifetime.
Our youth need public figures and parents to work together and provide information to our families about the high-risk consequences of inappropriate photo sharing. We need and want to partner with high profiles individuals whose form of self-expression is not blatantly a form of commerce, but a demonstration of the importance of setting goals and teaching our children, but especially our girls, that they have more to offer than just their bodies.
Parents should also understand the legal jeopardy for teens sending nude photos over the internet or cellular devices. Directing someone to make, send, or possess these photos is both a federal and state crime. Every day, our Human Trafficking Bureau sees the tragic realization for parents who learn of their child mimicking what they see in the media, or buying into the myth that their online accounts are truly private, truly secure, that they can control the access of the increasingly sophisticated criminal enterprises who hunt for their next victims on the very platforms parents may believe are just for fun.
I encourage parents to learn more about the consequences of sexting and sharing nude photographs, and the threat of on-line predators pose to our children by contacting the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (www.missingkids.org), the Los Angeles Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, or the LASD Human Trafficking Bureau's Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) team, at (323) 526-5156. In addition, the SAFE team can assist victims and families and provide valuable direction in mitigating the some of the issues that may arise if their child has already engaged in this conduct. Let us do this for our children, and rest assured, the detectives from our LASD HTB will pursue, to the fullest extent of the law, predators engaged in online sexual exploitation of our children.