More than 50 law enforcement agencies took part statewide in “Operation: Autumn Hope” including the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Taskforce. That agency along with the Franklin County Internet Crimes against Children Taskforce arrested 22 people seeking to have sex with a minor.
In Mahoning County, 14 men were arrested following that online undercover sex sting
“Really the biggest message we would like to put out there to anyone who wants to use the internet, whatever electronic tool they have to exploit underage kids, we want them to know that there is a significant chance they may be talking to one of us and I certainly hope they are talking to one of us,” said Sheriff Jerry Greene.
Officials with Trumbull County Children Services say with more kids at home and online there comes more opportunity for online predators.
“When I saw school systems providing kids with devices, most people thought that’s wonderful, they will be able to have access to learning, of course, a lot of us in my field say ‘oh my goodness more opportunity for access,'” said Tim Schaffner with Trumbull County Family and Children Services.
This comes as the YMCA of Youngstown is taking part in “Five Days of Action” – raising awareness about sexual abuse of children and how adults can prevent and protect.
“Making sure devices are in places that are social or interruptible, so instead of having computers in bedrooms having them in places like the kitchen or the living room where parents can see and hear what’s going on,” said Beth Scheller, CEO of YMCA Youngstown.
And while online predators are certainly something parents should be alert are potentially lurking, officials say the majority of child abuse still comes from someone a child knows and trusts.
“We know that 1-in-3 boys and 1-in-6 girls will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years-old and 90% of those abusers are from people families know and trust,” said Scheller.
And, with fewer children going to school fewer cases of abuse are being reported. Officials ask the public “if you see something, say something.”