‘Be alarmed’: Authorities highlight worrisome spike in internet sex crimes against kids

Published: Jun. 16, 2021 at 5:23 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 5:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Internet crimes against kids surged during COVID-19 closures, and that’s prompting a new warning to parents about online predators.

Homeland Security Investigations reports more cases last year than the previous five years combined and attribute the uptick directly to the pandemic.

Kids were unable to go to class, play sports, or hang out with friends so socializing moved mostly online, giving predators more opportunity.

Research groups found that internet usage jumped to 9 to 12 hours a day during the shutdowns.

“It’s a combination of everything, not only the exchange of child pornography but then you have dangerous predators that are attempting to contact children online,” said Lucy Cabral-DeArmas, deputy special agent in charge at HSI.

A dozen men were recently arrested in Operation Keiki Shield, an annual effort involving federal, state and local agencies to net suspected predators.

Charges included electronic enticement and promoting pornography.

Law enforcement officials announce arrests in Operation Keiki Shield
Law enforcement officials announce arrests in Operation Keiki Shield(None)

Victor Aguilar, of Kauai, was arrested in March by Kauai police officers before he was turned over to HSI. He remains in federal custody.

Law enforcement officials describe him as a longtime offender, with more than a dozen child victims while he was a JROTC instructor and foster parent.

During a recent raid of his home, officials said more images were found on his devices.

Victor Aguilar in the back of a KPD patrol vehicle after his arrest for alleged child sex crimes
Victor Aguilar in the back of a KPD patrol vehicle after his arrest for alleged child sex crimes(Kauai Police Department)

“I do want parents to be alarmed,” said DeArmas. “So that they understand that anybody can be a victim and as a parent you need to constantly have watch over your children.”

DeArmas said chat rooms are no longer the main source for predators. Social media apps and video game chats provide a window to contact kids.

Sextortion has also grown.

A child will send one photo of themselves and the predator demands more, threatening to post that picture if the child doesn’t comply.

“You need to know who they’re talking to,” said DeArmas.

“You need to ensure that the privacy settings are always at max and have that conversation with them tell them that they should not befriend anybody that they do not know.”

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