RIVERSIDE – More children and juveniles are spending time online now than ever before. And so are the predators looking for victims.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CyberTips coming in to the Riverside County DA’s Office from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children increased 110 percent from 1,245 in 2019 to a stunning 2,692 tips in 2020.
The Riverside County Child Exploitation Team (RCCET) is led by the DA’s Office Bureau of Investigation and is tasked with investigating those tips and proactively preventing the exploitation of children. Keeping up with the dramatic rise in investigations and cases has been overwhelming at the team’s current staffing levels.
Recognizing the need to expand the RCCET, Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chair Karen Spiegel brought it to the Board for a vote. With its recent unanimous 5-0 vote, the Board approved the expansion of the RCCET. The approval of an ongoing cost of $962,062 in future fiscal years will provide the team one additional Supervising District Attorney Investigator, two additional Senior DA Investigators, and an additional DA Computer Forensic Examiner.
“We must do everything possible to stop the horrific rise in the exploitation and victimization of our children,” said DA Chief of Investigators Joe DelGiudice. “The funding provided by the Board of Supervisors, made possible by Supervisor Karen Spiegel’s leadership, will give us the resources needed to combat this trend.”
Second District Supervisor and Board Chair Spiegel said, “The expansion of the Riverside County Child Exploitation Team is a critical step in providing additional layers of protection for our children.
“We need to stop the electronic exploitation of our youth which has been deeply exacerbated by the intensive use of online learning, digital gaming, social media, and daily virtual activities which are frequently un-supervised,” she added. “This type of victimization cannot become the ‘new normal’ for our children. I’m confident that the District Attorney’s team will make a notable difference.”
Since the inception of the RCCET in June 2020, the team has identified or rescued 23 previously unreported minor victims. The number of search warrants served, and the arrests of child exploitation suspects has also increased dramatically.
One way the team is working to prevent child exploitation is by identifying and arresting what are called “travelers”. RCCET investigators take on the persona of an underage person on an online app or chatroom and are contacted by someone -- the “traveler” -- who ultimately sets up a time and location to meet the child for sexual activity. However, when the suspect arrives, they are not met by the underage victim, but instead are arrested by investigators. In 2020, RCCET investigators arrested 13 “travelers”.
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