Much of COVID-19’s fallout has gotten a lot of attention: Mental health complaints are up, students have fallen behind, burned-out health care workers are leaving the field. This hasn’t: The state has seen a surge in its reports of Internet crimes against children, doubling from about 50 to 100 per month.
“We’re basically telling the entire United States of America to stay home all day and be on your electronic devices,” said Deputy Kevin Furlong of the Merrimack County Sheriff’s Office. “So, you have the victims that are on the computers more, but you also have the offenders that are on computers more.”
New Hampshire is not alone.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children saw reports of online “sexploitation” increase nearly 98 percent in 2020, according to the center’s website. Most of the time, offenders are known to victims and include parents, guardians, other relatives, babysitters or coaches, or family friends, according to the center.
Merrimack County Sheriff Dave Croft recruited Furlong, who has years of experience working these types of cases, away from his job as Mont Vernon’s police chief in response to New Hampshire’s surge.
Furlong is helping small local police departments that have limited resources investigate tips coming in from online platforms like Snapchat and Kik, and people who see suspicious activity online. They are most often reporting people sharing explicit photos and videos of children, but there are also reports of adults trying to entice children to share images of themselves or meet in person.
“The (police departments’) concerns were … they just don’t have the manpower, don’t have the knowledge or the skill level, and don’t have the equipment needed to really dig deep into the weeds with this thing,” Croft said.
Furlong’s hire adds Merrimack County to the list of affiliates working with the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Adults seeking guidance on protecting children from online predators can find a video on the task force website.