"Drowning" in child abuse cases, investigators say change is up to us

Published: Apr. 5, 2016 at 4:44 PM PDT
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This week Washoe County Sheriff's investigators tracked down and arrested a 36-year-old truck driver, Joshua Larsen, on charges of sexual assault and child pornography. The alleged victim was under the age of 14.

Sadly, there was nothing particularly unusual about the case and as investigators close it, they face a stack of others.

"We're drowning in them," says Sgt. Dennis Carry, the sheriff's department Cybercrime Unit Supervisor. "The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force alone maintains a case load of anywhere from 100 to 150 crimes on any one day in northern Nevada."

The manpower available to pursue that volume of cases? Just two investigators in the sheriff's office, a handful in other local, state and federal agencies.

"We could probably increase this unit by 10 people and still not be at a level where we're able to get to the offenders as soon as we need to," says Carry.

So investigators are forced to make gut-wrenching decisions, prioritizing some cases, choosing one victim before another.

"When it comes to a child having to make the determination of what you can get to first when you can't get to both at the same time is really difficult."

The cases range from physical abuse to emotional and mental anguish. Sexual assault which can leave lifetime scars. Pornographic images circulated on the internet that never go away.

"One child pornography victim said as she walks down the street she wonders if that person walking the other way has seen her on the internet."

These crimes are among the most horrific, their victims the most vulnerable. The law and common morality mandate they be investigated, their victims removed from harm, but that mandate comes with no earmarked funding. So these crimes compete with others for budget dollars. And that math won't change, Carry says, until we demand it.

That means an earmarked tax or fee. Carry notes a few cents a month on a cell phone or other electronic device--smart phones and the internet have had a big impact on the problem-- could make a big difference.

"Until the community gets together and decides their priorities or until legislators get together and decide how they can properly fund child abuse prevention and investigation, we're going to be struggling."

Sadly, it comes down to simple arithmetic and priorities. As we ponder those questions we should note that this week starts National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Cases like this most recent one stem from someone alerting authorities. There are a number of ways to do that. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintains a tip line.

Of course, there's Secret Witness or you can call law enforcement directly.

You'll find more information in the links attached to this story