Computers, Chat rooms, social networking sites --- these gadgets and platforms are part of our high-tech world -- yet they're the same tools criminals are using to abuse children.
A young woman who was kidnapped, raped and brutally beaten shares her story tonight and News 3's Nicole Morten goes undercover with local law enforcement who are working to catch child predators.
It's threatening. It's unpredictable and it's scary.
"This is just a gruesome, horrific crime,” explained Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constable Investigator J.J. Stitt.
It's a crime that can sneak into anyone's home; lure anyone's child.
“I think using the term child pornography almost de-sensitizes people,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Investigator Nikki Neeley. “These are sexual assaults of a child.”
The internet has transformed into the world's largest playground; and it's become extraordinarily dangerous over the years with predators lurking in almost every corner. This is the new face of crime in the 21st century.
“There is no economic profile. There is no racial profile or way sex offender looks,” explained Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Joel Daniels.
There are millions of websites that depict sex with children, teens and toddlers.
“These are videos of infants being raped,” said Neeley. “We’re talking six-year old boys, six-year old girls; the ages, I've seen one as young as seven months and they go up to 14, 15 years old.”
The pedophiles are invisible and they're everywhere....
“It's everywhere and it's happening every second,” Neeley said.
Montgomery County DA Investigator Nikki Neeley says keeping up with the online abuse is impossible -- but letting it continue is unthinkable.
“It's out of control. I feel comfortable saying it's out of control,” said Neeley.
“The disturbing problem is growing exponentially and it has planted a seed that over the last four months has transformed into what's now called the Houston Metro Internet Crimes against Children Task Force. It's comprised of at least ten different multi-jurisdictional law enforcement agencies ranging from the Houston metroplex all the way to Conroe and beyond.
Predators target the weakest people they can find and a lot of the time it's a crime of opportunity,” said Stitt.
Since its inception, the task force has been leading the way into the heart of darkness.
"Everybody knows we're here for possession of child porn,” said Nikki Neeley during a de-brief of a search warrant for possession of child porn on May 10th.
“A lot of the people we're finding engaged in this activity are trustworthy people in this community. Firemen, youth instructors, counselors, teachers, people involved with the church, school,” said Stitt.
The images are so startling -- it's difficult to talk about for even the most seasoned detectives who've seen it all.
“I've seen images of a diaper sitting next to a baby and a grown man sexually assaulting that child whether it is a male or female,” said Stitt.
“I had received a case where my victim was 3 years old and being sexually assaulted by an uncle and when I put the audio in and she mentioned the uncle's name…asking him to stop,” added Neeley.
No one really knows how many faces of abused children have flooded the internet since its inception, but authorities estimate there could be more than 20 million different websites depicting children, even toddlers being raped on camera.
Behind each of these images lies a real child whose innocence has been brutally ripped away and abuse has been reduced to pixels and pages on illegal websites. Alicia Kozakiewicz is one of those victims.
“This was 2002,” explained Kozakiewicz. “The warnings weren't there. There weren't seminars, or specials on TV," explained Alicia Kozakiewicz. "It was almost like it was an urban legend that children were being hurt online."
She was only 13 years old when she was befriended online by a boy claiming to be her age.
"I walked up the street a bit and I heard my name being called and the next thing I know I was in a car and my hand was being held so tight," Kozakiewicz explained.
The boy Alicia Kozakiewicz met online wasn't the boy, or her best friend she had been talking to for eight months after all. He was an accused sex sadist, online child predator and convicted felon.
"He drove me to his home in Virginia where I was held captive in a basement dungeon and I was raped and beaten and tortured,” said
Everything was broadcast across the world to an online audience filled with sexual predators.
"He chained me to the floor with a dog collar," Kozakiewicz said.
Investigators subsequently traced Alicia's location from an IP address.
"It took a monsters confession that I was saved, I mean, if my missing person poster hadn’t been out there, if there weren’t these nasty, horrible monsters watching what he was doing to me,” lamented Kozakiewicz.
Through an investigative Internet system, Precinct 3 Constable Detective J.J. Stitt says the task force is able to track the IP addresses of computers that send and receive child pornography or use online chat rooms and discussion boards to connect with children. An IP address acts as a digital signature for each computer logged on to the web; once an IP address is identified an investigation is launched; and in most cases, a search warrant is executed.
On May 10th the task force invited our cameras to ride along as a search warrant was issued on a suburban home in Montgomery County. As the sun crept over the 2-story home, a father stood outside with his wife and two kids as his home was raided.
“The reason why we do it relatively early is for security reasons,” explained Stitt. “We don't want them to know we were coming; for one, to endanger ourselves or themselves and their neighbors; and we want to catch them off-guard because in the digital world if they knew we were coming they could just with one click destroy all the evidence that's detrimental to my investigation.
There were no arrests on May 10th; however authorities filled two Chevy Tahoe’s with evidence including computers, cell phones and electronics from inside the home. It's only the beginning of a very complex investigation to find out exactly who's behind the crime.
While it may only be scratching the nail on the surface, it could be the beginning of high-tech victories that are resulting with one less victim and one more predator behind bars. On May 10th Two Police Tahoe’s were filled with computers, electronics and cell phones the day a search warrant was executed on the Montgomery County home. All evidence is currently being examined and charges are pending.
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