Minnesota Sees Surge in Sex Crimes Against Minors Online

Minnesota law enforcement agencies have reported a surge in reports of sexual crimes against children online since lockdown measures were introduced to impede the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Authorities believe the jump in crime is linked to children's and predators' spending more time online as schools and businesses remain closed.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension recorded more than 1,000 complaints involving child pornography or other forms of cyber exploitation of minors in March and April 2020. The disturbing statistic represents a 30% increase in complaints received over the same period last year. 

Drew Evans, superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that operates the Internet Crimes Against Children investigative unit, said it was "very unusual to see such a large jump" year on year.

Sadly, the spike in reports of online child exploitation while the United States is under lockdown isn't unique to Minnesota. The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children recorded more than 6 million tips concerning online child exploitation in March and April 2020. This figure is three times higher than the number recorded over the same time period in 2019.

“That’s probably the largest number of reports in a two-month period that we’ve ever received,” said John Shehan, vice president of the center’s Exploited Children Division. 

According to Shehan, child predators have openly stated on the dark web that they are taking advantage of stay-at-home orders to indulge their illegal predilections. 

Shehan said that the majority of tips received by the center are reports of child pornography, but many concern sextortion incidents in which children are enticed into sharing lewd photos online, usually on social media.

Under social distancing restrictions, Minnesota has suspended the use of grand juries since March 23. Without them, federal prosecutors are struggling to indict crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children online. 

“We’re not indicting cases, but they’re still coming in and we’re still working them,” said Minnesota US Attorney Erica MacDonald. 

She said her office was working with county prosecutors and law enforcement to ensure “we don’t leave people in the community who are posing an imminent threat” to minors.

MacDonald anticipates a boom in indictments once the temporary suspension is lifted.

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