TV6 investigates Child Sexual Conduct crimes: How law enforcement aims for a proactive approach

Published: Oct. 25, 2023 at 2:51 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2023 at 10:07 AM EDT
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UPPER MICHIGAN, Mich. (WLUC) - In August of this year, a sting operation took place in Forsyth Township where officers posed as minors to catch adults soliciting them for sex.

Seven men from the U.P. were arrested. In July, a similar sting caught three Houghton County men attempting to do the same.

The thing in common with these two operations - they all took place online. Marquette County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lt. Jason Hart says these undercover stings teach law enforcement valuable lessons about Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) crimes.

“Communication has become far easier. These crimes, what they teach us, is that there are no boundaries when it comes to committing a sexually motivated crime,” Hart said.

According to the Michigan State Police, 63% of the total reported sexually motivated crimes in the state involve minors. Michigan also has nearly twice as many sexually motivated crimes as the national average according to the 2022 crime report by the Michigan State Police.

That is why Hart says law enforcement takes a proactive approach.

“Unfortunately, with a lot of the sexually motivated crimes, a lot of those investigations are reactive, which means that we are conducting an investigation after a victim has reported the crime. Investigations like this or an operation like this actually give us the opportunity to take the fight to the offender’s doorstep and proactively pursue these individuals before they have the opportunity to commit another crime,” Hart said.

Hart says in sting operations where an undercover officer is posing as a minor, the goal is to get criminals on the radar of law enforcement.

“Generally, it seems that some people might believe that because we arrest these people before they have the opportunity to commit a crime there hasn’t necessarily been a crime committed. However, we need to be aware that lots of times, these individuals that are communicating online to meet minor children, they’ve committed these crimes in the past,” Hart said.

Judge Christopher Ninomiya serves in the 41st Circuit Court, which covers Dickinson, Iron, and Menominee counties. He agrees that even if a sexual assault did not occur there is always a victim.

“Because people do throw around that it’s a victimless crime, it’s people looking at videos and photographs on the internet, no one’s being harmed by that, but that’s really not true at all because someone is making that material. Someone is harming that child in the process of producing that type of material,” Ninomiya said.

In fact, Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Wiese says many who are arrested in child sex crime sting operations had previously offended.

“Recently, I prosecuted a person for child sexually abusive material who I believe previously had preyed upon a child. And so I think those crimes are insidious and that there’s really no way to stop somebody from having those types of thoughts or whatever it is that caused them to want to do that type of thing,” Wiese said.