This story includes graphic descriptions and language that may not be suitable for young audiences; some may find this content offensive.
Police Detective Tim Brady sits at his desk, surrounded by computer screens. He flips on a monitor and an instant-chat session is on the screen, this one recorded a few years ago. It is one of thousands of hours the Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children unit, (ICAC) has spent online.
“Within less than a minute I’m bombarded with all these people that think they’re speaking with a 13-year-old girl,” Brady says.
Brady is part of a special group of law enforcement officers from around the state who are on the front lines when it comes to the Internet and sexual crimes involving children. They make up Idaho’s ICAC task force.
Part of the Attorney General’s office, Idaho’s ICAC unit is one of 61 task forces across the country. Nationally, ICAC got started in 1998 as a a response to rising Internet crimes. Idaho’s group wasn’t formally organized until 2007.
Brady is one of eight Idaho ICAC officers. Impersonating a young girl online is just one part of his job. He has to stay up-to-date on Internet lingo, listen to Justin Bieber, and keep up with pop culture so the men popping up in these chat boxes believe they're talking to a teen girl. Brady describes some of the chatter he routinely gets from predators.
"[They ask] if I have a boyfriend, do I want some more pictures, people trying to get me to send them pictures," he says.
Another recorded chat session pops up and more boxes appear on the computer screen. Each one is another man trying to catch the girl’s attention through conversation or pornographic pictures and video. It’s incredibly explicit, but Brady is unfazed, and says this sort of thing is typical.
“There’s chat rooms for kids to get on and talk about their Xbox games and homework club and whatever it might be. That’s where guys go,” Brady explains. “We live in a world now where people that are sexually interested in kids have more access to them than they ever had before.”
In this recorded chat session, Brady was approached by a 67-year-old man. The man didn't use code words or shorthand. The predator states his intent very clearly, using graphic language when talking to Brady's 13-year-old female persona.
“Guys send me pictures of different stuff, pretty explicit stuff. This particular guy’s asking me I’m going to be able to spend the whole night or just until we do our things and again, he’s talking to a 13-year-old girl.”
This Internet predator wants to meet Brady’s persona, the 13-year-old girl, so they can have sex. The man sets up a “date" outside of Seattle. But instead of a girl, the man met ICAC officers from Washington State. The man was arrested and charged with online enticement of a minor.
“And then throughout the investigation we found evidence he had sexually abused a relative and another teenage child back East,” Brady says. The man was convicted and is now serving jail time.
Depending on the case, a predator can be charged with a number of crimes, from child enticement and sexual battery to sexual exploitation. Conviction can mean a few months to a few decades in jail, depending on the crimes.
Brady says that case wasn't the worst Internet crime he’s ever seen aimed at children.
“Without getting too graphic, it is the most despicable, deplorable evil thing that I could even begin to describe. It’s evil, it’s the devil, that’s what it is; it’s just pure evil.”
Down the hall from Brady’s office, Operations Supervisor Steve Benkula monitors the ICAC unit. He says officers deal with anything that puts a child at risk online.
“[Officers] work out in the field, search warrants, getting information off accounts, computers, wherever the trail leads. But most of its done behind the scenes," Benkula says.
Last year, Idaho’s ICAC unit started 292 investigations and made 35 arrests. But at last count, the unit had 5,000 leads just in Idaho of people downloading and distributing child pornography.
“We’re just at the tip of the iceberg I feel,” says Benkula. “With everyone we catch, there’s going to be someone there to take his place or her place. It is disappointing, but we’re out here and that’s what we do, try to protect our children.”
Since 2008, ICAC units around the country have made more 41,889 arrests, 237 of them in Idaho.
Over a two-year period, Idaho ICAC rescued 51 children who were being sexually abused. The children ranged from 18-months to 15-years-old. Detective Tim Brady says none of those kids had reported the abuse.
“That’s what’s scary about it is that it’s going on under our noses, and they’re kids, they’re not knocking down our doors saying, 'this is happening to me.' And it’s our responsibility to go find them and to rescue them because they can’t do it themselves,” Brady says.
Ultimately, Brady says his job is to stand between the sexual predator and the child so the child never gets hurt. He says saving kids is what keeps him going after nine years of chasing criminals.
“That’s what’s driving you to keep putting up with the crap we have to put up with, and the nastiness we have to see," he says. "Because there’s a kid behind every one of those cases, potentially, and a high likelihood that there’s a real child involved in whatever we’re investigating.”
Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio
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