Predators turning to technology to entice children

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Central Ohio Law Enforcement Officers assert the threat of stranger danger lurking in your neighborhood is statistically low.

At first glance, Columbus police offense reports suggest it's getting even lower.

In 2014, CPD investigated 85-child enticement reports. In most cases, children reported an unknown adult attempted to speak to them or lure them into a vehicle.

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The following year, that number fell to 54 and declined again in 2016 to 43. So far in 2018, police have investigated only 24 child enticement reports.

At the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, Lt. Dan Johnson, the man who founded the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said the reduced number of incidents doesn't surprise him.

"When you look at these predators, they're going to seek out areas where it's going to target kids...they'd be out playing with their friends. Playing outside the entire day. Now we see the complete opposite. Kids are staying inside for longer periods of time. They're glued to their cell phones. They're glued to video games. And a lot of these video games will connect with the internet and allow kids to interact with people all over the world," said Lt Johnson.

He said it's still important for parents to talk to their kids about what to do if they're approached by a stranger.

Tirza Rhoden is a mother and a daycare administrator who takes that job seriously.

"I have a daughter. She's 6-years-old so I definitely educate her on stranger danger," said Rhoden. "I definitely educated her on talking to strangers or people who aren't your family members or close friends, just so she can be aware. I tell her all the time...you scream...because if you're really loud someone is going to hear you."

Lt. Johnson said protecting children from digital predators is "very difficult," but he said a parent's best defense is putting down devices and taking the time to listen to their kids.

"Have those face to face conversations. Ask your kids what's going on in their lives. Be open. Allow them to come and talk to you about those things," said Lt. Johnson.