AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – An anonymous cyber-tip led to a man in Columbia County recently getting sentenced to federal prison for possession of child pornography, which led to NewsChannel 6 taking a deeper dive into the effect of the internet on these crimes.

Investigators for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office said online tips have helped them locate and eventually charge people who sexually exploit children in the area.

“If we don’t know anything is happening, or if we don’t have a clue about that, we can’t work the cases,” said Allison Foster, an investigator for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office’s Crimes Against Persons Unit.

According to public records, there are currently 509 registered sex offenders in Augusta. To protect children and help bring these offenders to justice, community members have to speak out.

“If you see something, say something,” Foster said. “Report it – whether it’s anonymous, whether it’s calling dispatch and filing the actual report. We need to know this type of behavior is happening.”

There is a downside — while the internet is a good resource to find child sexual predators, it also allows the predators find the children easier. 

“They might meet somebody in a game that they’re playing,” said Kari Viola-Brooke, the executive director of Child Enrichment Inc. “And it might escalate to where they’re saying ‘hey, I’ll give you these coins or these tokens if you show me your private parts.’”

To prevent children from becoming victims, Viola-Brooke urges parents to keep tabs on what they’re doing online.

“Monitor your kids on the internet,” she said. “We wanna come in, unannounced, and look at what our kids are doing. Ask to see their screens, see who they’re talking to. It is a big concern that I think people are not really aware of.”

Local law enforcement works closely with child advocacy nonprofits such as Child Enrichment Inc. to help children in the area recover from this form of abuse.

“Law enforcement, DFCS, the district attorney’s office,” Viola-Brooke said. “They all come to one place and the kid can get all the services they need.”

If it is suspected that an acquaintance is involved with child sexual exploitation, an anonymous tip can be left at report.cybertip.org, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children can be called at 1-800-843-5678.