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I-TEAM | Ambushed by images: An investigation into online child sexual abuse

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 6:54 PM EDT
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Warning: Details in this story could be disturbing to some readers.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - An all new I-Team investigation is shining a light on how disturbing photos and videos once hidden on the dark web could now find their way on your phone. It all started when a News 12 viewer saw someone selling child pornography on social media. What happened next could be a lesson for all of us.

This investigation is also a call for action because we can now arm you with a simple – but powerful tool – to fight back.

Quantavia Garnett was scrolling through Snapchat when she saw “The Ad.”

“It just came out of nowhere,” she said.

It wasn’t an advertisement. Someone added her as a friend. When she went to see who it was, she was bombarded with child pornography. She wishes she could un-see all of it. A user appeared to be “Selling” children to perform sex acts. There were also explicit photos and links to buy videos. Quantavia reported all of it to Snapchat.

“I checked it about four or five times, and it was still up there, so I just left it alone. That’s when I was messaging you (Meredith Anderson),” she said.

The images she sent the I-Team were beyond disturbing. We won’t be able to un-see them, either. When she said she didn’t know how to report them, the I-Team sent them straight to the GBI’s assistant special agent in charge at the Cyber Center, but there was a slight problem.

“It is illegal to possess it, to manufacture it, to distribute it,” said Charles Kicklighter.

Technically, our I-Team accidentally broke two of those laws in reporting this to the GBI.

“So I’m an example of what not to do,” said Anderson.

“Yeah,” said Kicklighter.

Here’s what the I-Team learned from this: Kicklighter generated a cyber tip for this case at the same place the I-Team could have. Quantavia could have generated one, too. You don’t have to work in law enforcement to click here (https://report.Cybertip.Org/) to report something like this.

“Anyone can go to that website,” said Kicklighter.

It seems a lot of people aren’t reporting it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Of the more than 16.9 million reports it received in 2019, only 150,667 came from the public. That’s not even one percent. The overwhelming majority came from “Electronic communication providers.” statistics show most of those are “Facebook-owned platforms.”

In 2020, the European Union’s law enforcement agency reported an increase in people live streaming child sexual abuse “As travel restrictions prevented offenders from physically abusing children.”

“They have a child, and you tell him what you want done to the child. and you pay, and they will send you a video of them doing whatever you ask them to do to the victim. They will even send you the clothes, the undergarments, that they were wearing at the time,” said Kicklighter.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children saw a record-breaking 21.7 million reports of online enticement in 2020. That’s a 97.5 percent increase from the year before. Experts believe it was a direct result of more kids using laptops, tablets, and phones for school during the pandemic.

“There’s still a lot of children that have not been identified that are still being victimized every day,” said Kicklighter.

That’s why special agent Kicklighter says it’s essential that you to speak up if you see something wrong. Quantavia hopes now that we all know where and how to report it, more people will start to come forward.

“They need to report it immediately. Do not let it slide. Do not let it go. Do something about it,” she said.

Again do not screen shot any images or save any videos. You do not need to upload them anywhere – and please don’t email them – even if you are sending them to law enforcement. Kicklighter says all you need is the web address and the name of the social media account and as soon as you hit “Send” someone will be looking into it immediately.

Did you ever find out what happened with the case our viewer reported?

Yes. Investigators traced the account to the Dominican Republic and shut down their PayPal account – but no arrests yet. Investigators are working on locating the suspects and the children.

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