More children abused and extorted online receive help from victim advocates in ND | Virtual Vigilance Part 2

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 6:20 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Like a predator going after its prey, criminals on the internet look for vulnerability. Instances of criminals abusing and exploiting children online are skyrocketing. The crimes have a ripple effect. After a crime is brought to light, child advocates come in to help the victims.

“Law enforcement, child services, typically contact us. They have to take the child’s statement, but because they are children, we want to do it in a child-friendly atmosphere,” said Paula Condol, executive director of Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center.

Cases at the Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center are way up. Advocates in the Bismarck-Mandan area deal with about 25 cases a year of kids who have been exploited by someone online. They use a number of techniques, like involving therapy-dog-in-training Linus and developing a treatment plan, to let kids tell their story and begin healing.

“You can imagine if you were abused, or you know, extorted online, lured online, that’s really painful. It’s embarrassing oftentimes. A lot of times, kids hold a lot of shame about it because they feel they participated somehow by chatting with someone they thought was their friend,” said Condol.

Condol says it’s not their fault and kids can rebuild after the trauma.

“They can go on and live full and happy lives,” said Condol.

It’s important for the North Dakota Task Force to check in with agents too because the material investigators find when they are scrolling online for criminals is disturbing.

Chief Agent Harstad said there’s been a big push for officer wellness across the state.

“If they can’t look at one more case and they need to step away, we want to give them opportunities to do that,” said Steven Harstad, Chief Agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

He says the department varies the cases agents work on and offers trainings and resources. During the Legislative Assembly, Sen. Mike Dwyer proposed Senate Bill 2213 to offer a resiliency program for law enforcement across the state.

Agents said the key to reducing these types of crimes is education. To learn more, tune in Thursday to Your News Leader for part three of Virtual Vigilance.