B.C. man charged with luring, sexually assaulting 13-year-old Winnipeg girl
Winnipeg police say they've seen spike in online luring, predators seeking to meet, abuse victims
UPDATE: Charges stayed against B.C. man accused of luring, sexually assaulting 13-year-old Winnipeg girl
A 39-year-old man from Richmond, B.C., is accused of sexually assaulting and luring a 13-year-old girl from Winnipeg, following a year-long investigation by the Winnipeg Police Service and RCMP in British Columbia.
Police executed a search warrant at the man's home in Richmond on July 22. He was charged with luring a person under 16, sexual assault, sexual interference and obtaining sexual services from a person under 18 years of age.
The investigation began last June, when police received a report the man was attempting to lure a 13-year-old girl in Winnipeg via social media.
"Of course we were immediately concerned," Winnipeg Police Service Staff Sgt. Helen Peters told CBC News on Tuesday.
After outreach workers in Winnipeg gained the victim's trust, she told police she was sexually assaulted by the man, who was visiting Winnipeg for work.
Members of the Winnipeg police counter-exploitation unit launched an extensive investigation.
Police believe the girl was assaulted after she had gone missing. They allege the man tried to continue exploiting her via social media.
He was granted bail and released in B.C. with numerous conditions.
Police believe it's possible, because he was known to travel for work, that there may be other victims in other jurisdictions.
Police see spike in online luring
Police in Manitoba say they've seen a rise in reports of children being exploited online since the pandemic began.
Manitoba RCMP say they've seen at least a 20 per cent spike in cases, while Cybertip.ca reports an 81 per cent increase in reports to its national tip line.
Peters said luring is on the rise in Winnipeg in all of the units she oversees, which includes the counter-exploitation, internet child exploitation (ICE), child abuse and sex crimes units.
Historically, she said cases of online luring — which involves predators making contact with minors in an attempt to solicit sexual conversations, images and videos — were mainly handled by the ICE unit. That's no longer true, she said.
"Now we're seeing in over 90 per cent of our [units'] cases that luring is used as a tool."
Watch | Staff Sgt. Helen Peters on the rise of luring:
Peters is concerned predators are becoming bolder. Her teams are noticing more cases where luring extends beyond the online exchange of photos and images to meeting in person, in order to sexually assault or even abduct victims.
"There is a point in time when people who have been sharing child pornography online, or having been luring children online, become dissatisfied with online," she said. "They move into the physical world ... wanting to reach out and physically touch that child."
Edmonton man charged with abduction
In March, Edmonton police arrested a 27-year-old Alberta man accused of luring a 14-year-old Winnipeg girl online, before eventually abducting her last December.
She was reported missing and located the next day by Edmonton police, and safely returned to Winnipeg. The man turned himself in to police in March.
Winnipeg police say he had been communicating with the teen since April 2019.
Peters said it often takes time for victims, especially children, to come forward with the abuse they have endured. Because of that, she believes police are only starting to see the effects the coronavirus pandemic may be having on the exploitation of children.
"Quite honestly, as a division, I think we're bracing ourselves," she said. "I don't think we'll realize for quite some time the devastating effect of a lockdown has had on our children."
She recommends parents remain vigilant about what their children are doing online and set boundaries to make sure they are not making friends or communicating with anyone they do not know.
She also encourages parents to be aware of all of their children's online contacts, and remove anyone who is not known.
"There are no safe social media platforms to use," she said. "Every child online is vulnerable."
Information or tips regarding the online exploitation of children can be made at Cybertip.ca.