Social media

A 12-year-old girl exchanged text messages with a teenage boy through a social media app to stop him from harassing her friend. The boy agreed to stop if the girl would send him sexually explicit photos and videos. If she didn't, he'd continue to torment and harm other girls.

The girl agreed, but what she didn't know was the person she was sending those images to wasn't the 16-year-old boy he portrayed himself to be, but rather a 21-year-old man, according to Blair police.

It's a common practice predators use to entice girls over the internet, authorities said.

“If it's a 40-year-old man, he's going to show that he's a 16-year-old (boy) because that's who girls ages 12 to 16 want to talk with,” Detective Russ Cook said. “If they think this person wants to talk to a 14-year-old girl, he'll make himself out to be a 14-year-old girl.”

Last month, Blair resident Andrew M. Christensen was charged with three counts of sexual assault by means of electronic communication, a Class 1D felony; four counts of visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct, a Class 1D felony; and child abuse-intentional, no serious bodily injury, a Class 3A felony.

Christensen allegedly used Snapchat, a multimedia messaging app, to contact the 12-year-old victim and request sexually explicit videos and photos.

It's the second exploitation case Blair police have investigated in the last year.

On Aug. 21, 2018, Eric Schulkey of Kennard was arrested for trying to persuade hundreds of women into engaging in sexual acts with children following a two-month long investigation. Schulkey pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement in June. He is currently awaiting sentencing in Washington County District Court.

In both cases, Capt. Aaron Barrow said, the suspects “cast a wide loop” randomly contacting people to try to get as many responses as they could to their messages.

“They do it because it works,” he said. “It's no different than these telephone scams or something like that. They do it because it works. Somebody will respond to it.”

If a person doesn't respond, the predator moves onto the next, Cook said.

“It's like fishing,” he said. “If you cast your line out 100 times, you'll probably catch a fish or two. Same thing.”

Statistics from the National Children's Alliance show one in five children have received a sexual solicitation over the internet in the past year.

Blair police said predators are using popular social media apps such as Snapchat, Tik Tok and Kik to contact potential victims.

Barrow and Cook said it's important for parents to talk with their children about the potential dangers of the internet and online predators.

“Children don't generally have the critical thinking skills that an adult might have,” Cook said.

“They don't understand the long-term effects of what happens,” Barrow added. “They willingly put an image of themselves out there. Now, it's an electronic file. The person they shared it with ends up sharing it with someone else and it's out there forever. It will never, ever go away.

“There are victims out there of child pornography who were maybe even toddlers when this happened. Now, they are adults, but those images are still out there and still being traded,” Barrow said. “They will be a victim of that for the rest of their lives.”

Parents should maintain control over their child's phone, know the passwords and randomly search it as well, police said.

“Parents need to acknowledge themselves first that there are predators out there,” Barrow said. “You can't just assume that it will happen to somebody else in a big city.”

The two most recent cases are examples of that, Barrow said.

“They're everywhere in every town no matter how small,” he said. “I think people really need to honestly acknowledge that those people exist and not live in denial.”

Parents can watch for signs that their child maybe involved in an inappropriate relationship online, including spending a lot of time online, especially at night; getting telephone calls from adults the parents don't know; withdrawing from the family; or gifts or items the child may have received that they can't afford to purchase.

If parents find inappropriate images or text messages on their child's phone, they are urged to contact police.

“In that case, there is a very high probability there is more than one victim. It's not just their child,” Barrow said.

Anyone with information in the Christensen case or any other case is encouraged to call Blair police at 402-426-4747.

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