‘The internet is never private’: Alberta Internet Child Exploitation unit
Officers struggle with knowledge they can’t tackle every crime they encounter on the web
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Things are always busy for the southern Alberta Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit who opens more than 400 investigations into sexual exploitation of children annually.
Const. Heather Bangle said with only eight investigators, it’s impossible to spend significant time on each case, let alone close each one that passes across their desks, but they try.
“Every file is unique and so it depends on the situation,” she said. “We tend to hone in on the cases where a child is in danger.”
ICE is a section of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT), a joint team of Calgary Police Service, Edmonton Police Service, Lethbridge Police Service, and RCMP that was established and funded by the Alberta Government.
Cases are usually initiated for ICE through a national reporting centre, but sometime investigators or ICE techs find cases by going undercover and scouring the dark web.
“The kids don’t really go on the dark web, it’s the offenders,” she said. “They’re looking to find like-minded individuals to share child pornography with or gain access to kids.”
Bangle, who has been a member of ICE for nearly seven years said sexual child exploitation is rampant online.
“It’s everywhere,” she said. “But, we’re all here to support each other and get the job done, so we take pride in the work we are able to do and try not to get too frustrated with the work we aren’t able to do.”
Bangle said in many cases, kids and teens begin chatting online with an offender. She said sometimes the offender is totally honest about who they are, and other times they lie to the kids—claiming to be the same age.
“Parents need to have open lines of communication with their kids,” she said. “When we knock on someone’s door, they’re quite often surprised.”
Bangle said she’s heard from many parents “my kid would never,” but she’s got news for them.
“They will, and they have,” she said.
Victims are lured online, groomed and in many cases, exploited and taken advantage of by an offender—who are predominantly male, according to the constable.
Bangle said it’s up to society to make sure kids understand something very important about the internet: nothing is private.
“It’s up to society to educate these kids,” she said. “I always say, if it (and offender) was someone I knew, I’d be upset but I wouldn’t be surprised.”
The most horrific cases, according to Bangle are child sexual abuse victims whose images and often times sexual abuse, are being disseminated online.
“These child sexual abuse victims have no choice, no voice, and the offences are committed by someone they know and trust,” she said, adding she’s seen victims range from infants to teens.
Further, Bangle said they’ve noticed kids sharing naked images with each other has become a prevalent issue.
“Don’t sent out naked images of yourself,” she said. “It’s never private.”
For kids and teens who feel they might have gotten themselves in a bad situation online, Bangle said a good resource is protectchildren.ca, where there is “Help Now” option.
She said parents should check it out too.