LAWRENCEVILLE - For years, Special Agent Mike Yoder said he's posed as fictitious teens, children and predators online as part of his undercover efforts to track and catch sexual predators.
Yoder, a member of the FBI's Safe Child Task Force in Atlanta, is on a mission to stop these predators and he hopes he can help Gwinnett County do the same.
The FBI agent spoke Tuesday to a group of teachers, law enforcement officers and community members at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center as part of a training session presented by the Gwinnett District Attorney's Office.
"We know how to watch our kids on the playground, but we don't yet know how to watch them on the Internet," Yoder said.
That, the agent said, is what he's here to change.
"I go online every day and portray myself as a boy or girl, an adult, even a predator ... you can be anything online," Yoder said.
Yoder said it's estimated that more than 77 million children are using the Internet, 725,000 have aggressively been asked for sex with 70 percent of the solicitations occurring in the child's own home.
"It is a portal to pretty much anywhere in the world," Yoder said of the Internet and the vast array of people he has chatted with as part of his online investigations. "I'm chatting with people from Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States. A guy from Canada, who I talked to twice, on a Wednesday and a Friday, got in an 18-wheeler and drove to Gwinnett County to have sex with what he thought was a 9-year-old girl."
While the prevalence of sexual predators in the states is sobering, Yoder said child pornography has also proven to be a problem.
"Child pornography is a crime scene and that crime scene is the rape of a child," Yoder said. More than 20,000 images of child pornography are produced a month, he added.
How do you stop it?
Yoder said increased awareness, stronger law enforcement and harsher sentences are just a few of the things that could help put a damper on the prevalence of online sexual predators in Georgia.
Ann Burdges, executive director of the Gwinnett Sexual Assault Center in Duluth, attended the session and said she was pleased with the training session Tuesday and hopes more can be done to raise awareness among the Gwinnett Community.
"It's very much needed in Gwinnett County," Burdges said of programs like Tuesday's. "It's important to educated adults to heighten awareness of the prevalence of the problem because it's going to be up to us to be the eyes and the ears and trust our gut."