Child exploitation cases skyrocket in St. Joseph County
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY —
Almost every day in May, investigators at St. Joseph County’s Cyber Crimes Unit received a new case of alleged child exploitation.
It’s Director Mitch Kajzer’s job to sift through the information, match details to people and then execute raids that in many cases, lead to arrests. Earlier this year, he led a raid at Brandon Eiler’s home in Mishawaka.
Eiler was arrested after authorities said he downloaded “a significant amount” of child pornography. Eiler’s case is only one example of the dozens of cases coming across Kajzer’s desk.
“People don’t realize how much of it there is going on in the community,” said Kajzer. “It’s a very real problem in the community with the amount of it that there is.”
The umbrella term “child exploitation” can encompass a number of unlawful acts according to Kajzer; it could contain visual depictions of sexual assault against a child or a child being raped that is traded or distributed online.
When servers at companies like Google and Facebook detect child exploitation, the companies are required to submit that information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. NCMEC then takes the information and disperses it to local jurisdictions.
In the first three months of this year, the Cyber Crimes Unit has received four times the number of reports they received last year from NCMEC. That doesn’t necessarily include local alleged cases of exploitation, like Eiler’s.
In the first three months of this year, the Unit investigated 26 local cases of child exploitation, up from 15 during the same time period last year. Not all “local” cases are of local children.
Kajzer said it’s “surprising” but says the uptick in numbers is in large part is due to the pervasiveness of phones in our everyday life; phones track our patterns and can relay our search histories and deleted materials. Kajzer also blames the uptick on investigators developing more sophisticated ways of tracking the explicit materials.
“Years ago, someone had to sit down at a computer, log in and seek out the materials,” said Kajzer. “Now, both offenders and children carry cell phones with them 24 hours a day. They can be on the internet looking for material and downloading material.”
The internet is a hotbed of resources for investigators like Kajzer who are able to track the exploitation through apps, IP addresses, deleted folders and various other tools.
“I don’t think a suspect has ever been truly surprised that we have shown up,” said Kajzer. “They’ve always had an idea that they know why we’re there.”
Since 2003, the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office has had a 100% conviction rate of every child exploitation case that has been charged, according to Kajzer.
For more information on child exploitation visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or submit a cyber-tipline here.