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Portsmouth Police, FBI Norfolk office hold forum on human trafficking and crimes against children

In 2022, members of the FBI Norfolk office saw 15 cases of sextortion against boys in Hampton Roads. The forum aimed to share warnings and signs of potential crimes.

Portsmouth police and members of the FBI Norfolk office are making sure people know about the dangers of human trafficking and crimes against children.

Dozens of people packed the Portsmouth Police Department on Thursday, hoping to learn something to take back to their communities. Local FBI agents said cyber-tips of these kinds of threats rose 200% nationwide since the start of the pandemic.

One of the growing issues online is a crime called, “sextortion.”

In such cases, a predator coerces someone to send revealing photos and then threatens to release those images, if the victim doesn’t send more pictures or money.

“(They will say) send me an inappropriate photo, and then the victim sends that inappropriate photo,” said Krystal Kawabata, public affairs specialist for FBI Norfolk. “And they ask for money in order for them not to leak to that person’s family and friends.”

Kawabata said it’s happening right here in Hampton Roads. Their office saw 15 cases of sextortion against young boys in 2022.

But anyone can be a target, and it’s not the only kind of threat, agents say, especially against minors.

Human trafficking is also problem, but Kawabata said it doesn’t typically happen the way people see at the movies.

“Often times the myth is that it will be a stranger that will reach out to you online or whatnot,” she said. “And that can definitely be the case, but most often times it is people that you know, who are able to groom that person, and groom that victim, and then there is a trust that it developed and then they are able to take advantage of them.”

In terms of sex trafficking, agents said most victims in the United States are women between the ages of 16 and 25 years old. However, victims can be of all racial, ethnic, and social economic backgrounds, and they said most people are lured into sex trafficking, not kidnapped.

Federal agents advised parents and guardians to look out for any signs of abuse or change in a person’s behavior. Those are some of the signs something may be wrong.

Sharon Anderson, of Portsmouth, said she now knows how easy it is for children to get trapped. Anderson has a background in teaching, and she says parents need to talk with their kids. She believes this information needs to be available in schools.

“Kids need to be aware of the traps and how easy they can get pulled into a thing such as this,” she said.

They said almost 40% of cases of missing children between the ages of 14 and 17 are connected to their Internet activity. Speakers suggested guardians monitor and talk with their children about their internet and social media use, and be careful when posting online.

Portsmouth Police Chief Stephen Jenkins said this is the first of several community forums coming to the city, to help people stay safe.

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