(BEDFORD) – Recently across the State of Indiana, many Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Agencies have been presented with, and have had to learn how to navigate, the new phenomenon of cyber-vigilantism.
In these scenarios, private citizens pose as underage children on a social media platform, conversations take place, and the end result is the understanding that an underage child will be meeting with an adult to perform sexual acts.
“Regardless of your political affiliation, religion, nationality, or beliefs, the above-statement should provoke a strong reaction inside of you,” said Lawrence County Prosecutor Sam Arp “I don’t know a single person who does not have an instinctual moral conviction of protecting our children.”
Recent acts of cyber-vigilantism have demonstrated to law enforcement officials that a need exists for enforcement in this area of the law. For everything positive accomplished by cyber-vigilantism, there are also many negative consequences.
“First, in some cases, it is bringing sexual predators to our community. One instance involved an alleged predator traveling from Lafayette to Bedford, Indiana,” Arp added. “When such a person is introduced into our community, it increases the chance for abduction or other violent crime such as rape, to occur.”
“Second, it is common practice for the cyber-vigilante to confront the predator in a public place while streaming it live on social media. It is only a matter of time before one of these encounters turns violent and a firearm is used,” he added. “Imagine such a situation was happening at a local restaurant, and as you and your family are exiting your vehicle, unaware of the altercation a few parking spots over, and someone in your family gets shot as a result. We cannot condone behavior that puts our community at risk.”
“Finally, we have law enforcement officers trained to gather evidence and present it to the Prosecutor for charging decisions. This evidence must be obtained in a certain manner in order to make sure that it is able to be used in a criminal trial. In many cases, the evidence that is gathered by vigilantes will not be able to be presented in a criminal trial in its current state.”
Since taking office, Arp’s administration has made it a top priority to focus on crimes against women and children. During his first year in office, he obtained grant funding a dedicated prosecutor to handle such cases.
Additionally, the Prosecutor’s Office obtained a $30,000 grant from Hoosier Uplands to kickstart a forensic laboratory to investigate cases of child pornography and child solicitation. This funding was utilized to purchase just one of the three commonly used pieces of equipment in these types of investigations. Each piece of equipment costs $30,000 plus an additional $10,000 to train and certify the operator and also has a yearly $4000-$5000 relicensing fee.
“Moving forward, Lawrence County must develop an effective response to technology-facilitated child sexual exploitation and internet crimes against children,” Arp added.
This support must encompass forensic and investigative components, training, technical assistance, victim services, prevention, and community education.
“Therefore, I am happy to announce that the Lawrence County Prosecutor, the Bedford Police Department, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and the Mitchell Police Department have combined efforts and joined the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which is managed by the Indiana State Police,” Arp announced.
The Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program was developed in 1998 in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the internet and other technology, the proliferation of child sexual abuse images available electronically, and the heightened online activity by predators seeking unsupervised contact with potential underage victims.
ICAC is a national network of 61 coordinated task forces representing more than 4,500 federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. These agencies are engaged in both proactive and reactive investigations, forensic examinations, and criminal prosecutions. By helping state and local agencies develop effective, sustainable responses to online child victimization – including responses to child sexual abuse images (Contraband Images), the ICAC Program has increased law enforcement’s capacity to combat technology-facilitated crimes against children at every level.
Arrests alone cannot resolve the problem of technology-facilitated child sexual exploitation, the ICAC Program is also dedicated to training law enforcement personnel, prosecutors and other professionals working in the ICAC field, and educating parents, youth, and the community about the potential dangers of online activity including online child victimization.
Due to the dangers associated with Cyber-vigilantism members of ICAC do not approve, condone, encourage, or promote cyber-vigilantism by private citizens.
Bedford Police Chief Terry Moore and Sheriff Mike Branham encourage the public to share information regarding this type of activity taking place in our communities with law enforcement to be properly investigated.
“We all have an important role to play in our youths’ safety,” Arp said. “Parents must talk with their children and monitor their online activity, law enforcement officials must dedicate manpower and ensure proper training, prosecutors must provide guidance and effectively prosecute the cases, and finally, elected officials must ensure that funding is available for manpower and equipment. In all forms of government, funding needs always exceed the funding available. If this issue is truly important to you, I encourage you to reach out to your State Legislators and your City and County Council members so that they may fairly gauge the priority of such funding.”