Staunton task force arrests 15 men over two months

Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 4:02 PM EDT
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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - The Staunton Police Department arrested 15 men over the course of two months for soliciting children online in a major online sting operation.

Men arrested in Staunton's sting operation. (WHSV)
Men arrested in Staunton's sting operation. (WHSV)(WHSV)
Men arrested in Staunton's sting operation. (WHSV)
Men arrested in Staunton's sting operation. (WHSV)(WHSV)

The National Children’s Alliance reported one in five children are solicited online before the age of 18.

Staunton Police Sergeant Butch Shifflett says these operations are meant to catch people in the act of solicitation.

“These were online solicitations, which means they were sexual in nature with an individual they believed was a child. They were actually communicating with our investigators involved with the online covert task force,” Shifflett said.

The 15 men were arrested for online solicitation of a minor under 15 and attempted indecent liberties with a minor, but investigators say they only thought they were talking to children.

“We’re trying to protect the children by being the child online, or at least portraying that online,” said Shifflett.

During investigations, Shifflett says they have to do a lot of research on social media platforms and apps to learn which ones are being used most for these types of crimes. He says the operations are very in depth, but it’s worth it to stop these acts.

“Hopefully with this we’ll be able to stop individuals or at least curb some and catch some that are doing this,” he said.

Shifflett says the operations help protect children and make the internet useful, not harmful.

“It is good to use social media, it is good to be on the internet. There are so many resources we didn’t have 20 years ago. Using those in a positive environment and making them positive is important,” Shifflett said.

During the pandemic, people have spent more time on their computers, working and learning from home. Shifflett says that fact introduces a new dynamic for these operations.

Although there haven’t been more of these crimes in Staunton, he says they’re taking place in a new atmosphere.

“Obviously with individuals having more time to access the internet, I mean, they were using it for school, and spending more time on the computer, phone or application, there’s more risks out there,” he said.

Shifflett said you shouldn’t give information out to strangers online, and he also said you shouldn’t geotag your photos, especially when photos feature your children. For more information on keeping your kids safe online, visit the U.S. Department of Justice’s website, along with NetSmartz.

The men arrested come from the Valley and surrounding areas, from Staunton to Shenandoah to Charlottesville.

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