South Mississippi Sees A Disturbing Rise In Child Molestation Cases

The incidents are alarming. Not a week goes by without some story about sexual crimes against children.

Chayo Ing with the Gulfport Police Department has investigated sexual crimes against children for 15 years. She says the growing number of cases is primarily because more people are reporting such crimes.

Those who molest children are often times family members or close friends that develop a level of trust with a child.

"It could be anybody. It could be your next door neighbor. As I tell parents, unfortunately it's not like they have this big letter that glows on their forehead whenever they touch a child. It doesn't happen," Ing says.

"With predators that do prey on young children, that's what they're going to look for. They're going to look for the child they can befriend. That they know will be trusting. And that will allow them to do whatever they want to during a period of time."

"We're not really taking the time to find out who it is that's caring for our children."

Kevin Clifton is the pastor of Bay Vista Baptist Church. He says it's important that churches join the battle by emphasizing family.

"Strong family groups. If these mothers and fathers will stay involved in their children's lives, don't allow them to be put into an environment that it could happen in. Protect them. I mean, that's our job as parents."

It's a job that's especially challenging, in a world where the molester could be anyone.

"It can be your next door neighbor. It can be a doctor. It can be a minister. It can be a teacher. And those are just naming a few. You'd never know. It could be the person standing right next to you," Ing says.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics provides some perspective about the age of sexual assault victims. From the year 2000, nearly 70 percent of those victims were under age 18. Thirty four percent were under age 12 and nearly 15 percent were under six years old.