Launched in response to a dramatic increase in potential online threats against children during the coronavirus pandemic, an operation in New Jersey has caught 21 people accused of sexually exploiting children on the internet.
Three defendants are still in detention awaiting trial on charges against them for sexual assault or attempted sexual assault on children. (See the full list of accused below.)
Jason Berry, from Keansburg, allegedly manipulated a 14-year-old girl he met on social media to send him nude photos of herself engaging in sex acts. Berry reportedly had the girl engrave her initials on her legs and then sent the revealing photos of the girl to her mother.
Oklahoma resident Aaron Craiger, a registered sex offender, believed he was heading to New Jersey to meet two men who might offer him sex with underage girls, officials said. In fact, he had contacted undercover investigators and was arrested at an Atlantic City motel.
Alize Tejada, of Newark, reportedly filmed herself performing a sexual act on a very young child she was caring for, and posted the video on social media.
Officials say Operation Screenshot should remind parents to be vigilant in order to protect their own children from victimization.
“We started this operation in March at the start of the COVID-19 state of emergency. It was no coincidence,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said on Wednesday at a virtual press conference. “During this pandemic, people are spending more time online. On the one hand, homebound children are spending more time on their devices, both for virtual learning and for hobbies. time, predators are also spending more time online, taking advantage of this situation. “
Cyber Advice in New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Children jumped 50% between March 1 and July 31 of this year, compared to the same time last year, Grewal’s office said.
Gaming apps and systems continue to be prime hunting grounds for child predators looking for victims, Grewal said. Children are also vulnerable on social media, he added.
“With all that parents have to worry about during the COVID-19 crisis, we hate to add to your worries, but the trend of increasing reports of potential threats to children cannot be ignored,” said Veronica Allende, Director of the Criminal Justice Division. “You might think that nothing can happen if your kids stay home all day, but be careful. “
The webinar leaders offered the following tips to parents:
- Teach your kids that the people they meet online may not be who they seem.
- Familiarize yourself with the popular gaming apps and platforms that predators have used to target young victims in Operation Screenshot and previous investigations.
- Check the safety setting on your kid’s phones and see if they can be contacted by strangers through apps, games, and social media.
- Constantly remind children not to share personal information with strangers on the internet, whether through email or chat, or even through a pseudonym that might unintentionally reveal gender or age. Children should also be told never to take inappropriate photos and videos of themselves.
- Be tired if your child is secretive or protective about their phone or computer.
“Ideally, in a perfect world, computers and gaming devices should be kept in a central location where parents can watch them, and children shouldn’t have their phones with them in their rooms at night,” Grewal said. . “A simple suggestion is to create a family charging station where all mobile devices are stored at bedtime.”
19 men, 1 woman, 1 minor charged
The arrests of Operation Screen Capture took place between March 18 and July 31.
The ages of the accused vary from 15 to 71 years old.
“It is important to note that our investigations did not stop when these defendants were arrested,” Allende said. “We have obtained search warrants for the seized digital devices, including the cell phones of the accused.”
These devices were taken to various computer forensics labs, to see if they contained evidence of previous encounters with underage victims or sharing of child sexual abuse material. Such discoveries could incur additional costs.