Internet crime expert warns Bay students, parents about dangers in digital world

Published: Oct. 30, 2014 at 10:21 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 31, 2014 at 10:54 AM CDT
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BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Have you heard of the terms "virtual molestation" or "sextortion?" They are the latest tactics used by sex predators to exploit children. An Internet crime expert came to Bay St. Louis on Thursday to educate students and parents about the dangers in the digital world.

With more children on computers and on their phones, experts say sexual predators are coming up with new schemes to prey on their victims, some as young as 6-years-old.

"All they need is an inexperienced child to seduce away or to groom into that type of activity," said Chris Wilkinson. "There are plenty of, unfortunately, a lot of kids out there with these devices, and parents have no idea how much information is coming at their kids."

Wilkinson spoke to the students at St. Stanislaus about the dangers lurking online. The Pensacola police detective is also a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

He warned the students that the pictures they post may seem innocent, but it can be a crime.

"Some of these apps are very hyper-sexual environments. They're trying to get as many pictures as possible. Unfortunately, they're getting pictures from underage children, and that's possession of child pornography," said Wilkinson. "Unfortunately, it almost seems normal in that age group to ask for a naked picture of a person their age, and that is not normal as we know, and it's certainly against the law."

He also targeted sexting, cyber-bullying and using extorting to get more pictures from the victims.

"It is really scary, because a lot of people can get in jail for this," said ninth grader Sonny Valentine.

"I learned, basically, to be careful what you put out there in social media, because if you put something out there that you don't really want out there, it can always trace back to yourself," said eighth grader Logan Verdigets.

Wilkinson has a personal reason for wanting to reach out to the young men. He is a St. Stanislaus graduate who wants to empower and protect them.

"It's a very, very dark world that I work in. One of the greatest things I take away from this is knowing you've rescued a victim at the end of the day. It's a really good feeling," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson held a separate session just for parents Thursday night. He focused on adult pornography and its effects on our youth and the latest apps that are being used to "virtually molest" children.

"Technology is becoming more pervasive in allowing people to do more things in the privacy of their own rooms or outside their parent's supervision, and giving a child a cell phone like that is giving them a very powerful computer," said Wilkinson.

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