There have been three child indecency-related arrests in Craven County within the last month and anonymous tips are the primary reason these suspects were in custody.
The most recent arrest on July 8 was Victor James Wilcox, 33, of Havelock. He was charged with indecent liberties with a minor and two counts of statutory sex offense against a child, according to a Craven County Sheriff’s Office news release.
The alleged offenses occurred over the last five years and victims ranged from ages 2 to 7-years-old.
On June 15, Kendrick Dale Jensen, 28, of River Bend was charged with five felony counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and seven felony counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Jensen was accused of distributing multiple files of child pornography of children as young as 3-years-old.
The third arrest on June 8 was of Joseph Rodriguez, 40, of New Bern. Rodriguez was charged with nine counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.
Lt. Anthony Fischer, Special Operations Supervisor of the Havelock Police Department, said more social media sites are providing anonymous tips to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children than they have before. Majority of child sexual abuse or exploitation investigations open because of the tip reporting resource center, he said.
More:Cherry Point Marine arrested with possession of child pornography
NCMEC is a private, non-profit corporation with a mission to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimization, according to their website.
The national center works with families, victims, private industry, law enforcement, and the public to assist with preventing child abductions, recovering missing children, and providing services to fight child sexual exploitation, states the NCMEC website.
“The great part is that a lot of social media sites provide tips to the center,” Fischer said. “For instance, Facebook, Instagram, there are over 1400 electronic service providers. We have more tips coming in because it is a hard type of investigation. A lot of these arrests are tip-based. Very rare you’ll have an actual citizen call in a complaint… as far as internet crimes.”
In 2021, there were seven child sexual abuse cases and four sexual exploitation of a minor investigations assigned to the Havelock Police Department, according to Fischer. So far this year, Havelock PD has had two child sexual abuse cases and six sexual exploitation of a minor investigations.
“Our numbers are not necessarily statistically high, but even if you get one case, that’s one too many,” Fischer said.
‘Time-consuming’: investigating child sexual abuse cases
Pinning down a suspect and closing an investigation could take up to six months, according to Fischer.
Once an anonymous tip is registered with the NCEMC for suspicion of sexual exploitation of a minor, the tip is forwarded to the State Bureau of Investigation, he said. Based on where the tip is located, SBI will assign the proper agency to the criminal case to carry out the investigation.
The local agency will then scan IP addresses to identify the suspect and the suspect’s location. Fischer said that process could take up to 30 days.
“They (investigations) are time-consuming,” he said. “Once a local jurisdiction has the case, between identifying suspect locations, obtaining search warrants for the social media or suspected child sexual exploitation material, you could be talking months. And that’s just the start of it. From start to finish it can take up to six months.”
Allegations of physical sexual abuse can sometimes come after someone has raised suspicion of the crime or a child has come forward— which initiates the case, according to Fischer. A suspecting parent, teacher or caregiver will also occasionally come forward to a local police department.
After an investigation has been conducted and someone was charged with a child indecency-related crime, the suspect usually pleads guilty, he said. Otherwise, a local district attorney’s office will assist in solving the case and issuing a sentence.
Are crimes involving children trending in Craven County?
Fischer said child sexual abuse crimes aren’t necessarily trending locally, but more social media sites are assisting in providing anonymous tips to the NCMEC than in the past.
More:Two suspects charged in fatal shooting outside Craven County Courthouse, one faces death penalty
He said these crimes involving minors have always been present “unfortunately, and it’s a horrible crime.” Recent victims of sexual abuse in Craven County were between the ages of three and 10.
“I think it’s just the resources out there are better to apprehend these perpetrators now than maybe previously,” Fischer said.
Reporter Symone Graham covers local public safety for the Sun Journal. Have a story tip or idea? Send it her way.