AG Alan Wilson: Children can now be molested through use of the - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

AG Alan Wilson: Children can now be molested through use of the Internet

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

The Internet is a vast resource. It's used at home, at work, in schools, and on our phones. Many of us cannot imagine life without the Internet, but it's not always used for good.

Predators lurk online looking to harm unsuspecting children. This week is "Stay Safe Online Week", and we're doing a series of stories about Internet safety.

No one knows more about keeping kids safe online than investigator Lucinda McKellar. She has been tracking predators for the last 10 years.

Investigator Lucinda McKellar has been tracking predators and seeing these images for the last 10 years.

McKellar is part of the state's "Internet Crimes Against Children" task force. Thirty-four members from agencies across the state work with Attorney General Alan Wilson to protect the vulnerable.

"Since 1998, ICAC as we call it, has evolved from not just an education type of program but a detection, prevention and prosecution tool for law enforcement," said Wilson.

ICAC specializes in investigating child pornography and cases of sexual exploitation of minors. They get tips all the time from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"Children are no longer just molested on playgrounds," said Wilson. "They can now be molested through the use of the Internet."

McKellar sees it everyday.    

"When I first started working these types of cases, Yahoo! Was a location that people were predominately going into chat rooms soliciting children then that moved into MySpace then that moved into Facebook," said McKellar. "We're learning about new web sites all the time."

McKellar points to sites like Omegle or Oovoo where you can video chat.

"Children are in this video chat with someone and they end up trading nude photos of themselves or receiving nude photos," said McKellar.

Chat rooms can be a grooming ground for a predator to entice a child. Gaming sites are also an issue.

"It could be as simple as talking about the game and then it moves into a friendship; moves into a solicitation; moves into not only talking about sex but wanting to meet to have sex," said McKellar.

The conversation can move from the computer screen to text messages to real life, in person encounters.

McKellar says security software, parental controls, and blocks only do so much.

"I would never rely solely on software to protect my child," said McKellar. "Nothing beats a parent being vigilant."

McKellar and other undercover agents make it their mission to stop the abuse before it happens.

"After a while, it just makes you so mad that you're driven and you just want to make sure that you do everything you possibly can to make sure this isn't happening to another child," said McKellar.

In the last 15 years, ICAC has made close to 400 arrests with nearly 250 convictions. They still want to do more.

"When someone uses the Internet to try to prey on a small child, or anyone for that matter, we're going to find a way to get information to a jury so we can convict you," said Wilson.

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.

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