Every day in Siouxland, local and state groups work together to fight crimes against children.
The Department of Justice is recognizing the Mercy Child Advocacy Center, which has been serving suspected child victims for a decade now.
Over 54,000 cases, involving children exploitation, were investigated and resulted in the arrests of 8,500 offenders.
The increase in these types of cases nationwide, including right here in Iowa all derive from the same growing force, the internet.
In the Northern District of Iowa, 26 different defendants were indited, dealing with child exploitation.
Employees at Mercy’s Child Advocacy Center said the use of social media is sky-rocketing and a lot of these cases stem from outlets such as Facebook and Snapchat.
Now, kids are not just in front of computers, but their using phones and tablets, that allow them to access internet anywhere.
Forensic Interviewer at Mercy Medical, Sherrie Schweder, said this creates more opportunities for them to become prey to online exploitation.
“When you’re talking about kids, you’re talking about a vulnerable population,” said Schweder. “They are not always thinking that the people they may be communicating with online could potentially be someone who is dangerous. You know, they are trusting often times and that’s kind of a theme with a lot of the kids that we see and that does put them in danger.”
At the press conference, Wednesday, the Assistant District Attorney of the Northern District of Iowa, Tim Duax, stressed that parents are a key factor in prevention, by way of knowing your child’s device.
Some guidelines Duax laid out for parents: be in constant communication with them about their use of the internet and social media, tell them never to meet with anyone they’ve met online and do not send any pictures to them.
If kids find themselves in a situation where they’re being exploited, the most important thing to do, is tell somebody.
“If you are being victimized in this way, the one thing that the person that’s hurting you does not want you to do, is tell anyone,” said Duax. “They’ll always tell you, ‘don’t tell, don’t tell, don’t tell,’ the minute you tell, the power that that person has is over, they can no longer make you do what you don’t want to do.”
Duax said the average age they see as most vulnerable to exploitation on the internet, is between 12 to 15 years old.
Right now, the Child Advocacy Center is located in Mercy Medical and only has one interview room.
Plans have been drawn up for a new center, separate from the hospital, that will give them more space to provide services for more children.
Fundraising for this project, is currently in the works.