Joshua Stewart was arrested May 4 for coercion and enticement of a minor via the internet, which authorities say began as sexting with the 13 year old. Operation Orion was conducted by Homeland Security Investigation agents during the month of May.
Pam Weaver is the Director of Community Education for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. She wasn't surprised to learn a federal sting snared nearly 200 people in one month's time. "Predators are very good at grooming our kids," she said. "They know what to say to gain access to them and gain their trust, and to develop a relationship."
Most of the people arrested used the internet as their means of contacting minors. "Kids, unfortunately, do get in situations where someone is sending them an inappropriate picture or asking for one, and so you need to have those teachable moments to talk about it before it happens," said Weaver.
Kids of all ages are vulnerable to predators said Weaver, but those between the ages of 11 and 17 generally have more freedoms, more access to technology, and can confuse advances that seem innocent. "If they see a picture and they think they're cute, and they're just a little bit older they might be flattered by the attention, but we need to help our kids understand that they're not your friend," she said.
Weaver added parents need to set firm boundaries when it comes to their children's use of computers, smartphones and gaming devices. She said parents also need to monitor their children's activity, and encourage kids to report suspicious behavior. "If anything is seeming out of sorts with anyone they're talking to they should immediately get off the site and talk to Mom and Dad about it," said Weaver.
With summer vacation fast approaching, kids will have more free time to access the internet. Weaver said that makes this a great time to initiate the conversation about online dangers.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has valuable information available for children and parents online. Click here to learn more.