The fight against child sex predators

The fight against child sex predators
By: CJ Cassidy
In Southeast Missouri, police have a brand new tool to solve crimes.
They're stepping up efforts to fight child predators.
It's a special task force of sorts; the first of it's kind in Southeast Missouri, designed to help with the rising number of child sex cases.
One teenager, who knows first hand what it's like to be a victim says she only wishes the group was in place ten years ago.
"He sexually abused me. It happened more than once, it happened many times," Hannah, as she asked to be called, tells Heartland News. She remembers losing her innocence to her baby-sitter, all too clearly.
"He started out by drawing sexual pictures of people having sex, and talking to me about it. I was eight years old I didn't know much about it. I guess he was getting me ready for it," she says with a shudder.
Looking back, Hannah says she was more shocked at her mother's reaction.
"She told me I was enticing him. She told me it was my fault," she says.
Luckily for Hannah, her grandmother listened, and moved her out of harm's way.
Hannah's just one of thousands of child sex victims across the Heartland, and those cases show no sign of decreasing.
In 2002, the SEMO Network Against Sexual Violence handled 203 child cases. Last year that number more than doubled, to 521 cases across Southeast Missouri.
That's where the Child Investigative Response Team (CIRT) comes in.
The Cape County group's already in place, and other counties hope to do the same.
At a training session, officers learn all about sex offenders; from repeat offenders to situational child molesters.
"Some people who go through a divorce or have a catastrophic event like a job loss or death, can suddenly regress and then they have contact with children in lieu of a spouse, if they already have those predispositions," Autumn Petit who works with the Department of Probation and Parole, explains, and came in to speak to officers says.
Hannah couldn't be happier about police efforts.
But she says that doesn't mean parents can let down their guard.
"It's heartbreaking, because of all people a parent should believe you stick up for you and mine didn't," she says.
The investigators were taught things to be leery of, and we want to share those lessons with you.
If someone starts exhibiting an unusual interest in your child, buying them gifts or spending time with them, make sure you pay attention.
Keep an eye out for folks who seek out jobs to be around children, but appear extremely awkward socially.
Last but not least, always talk to your children and make sure you know when something's bothering them. Don't brush their problems aside.
For more information, call the SEMO Network Against Sexual Violence at (573) 332-1900.