July 24th, 2024

SACPA hears from ALERT officer about internet child exploitation


By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on March 8, 2024.

Herald photo by Steffanie Costigan Const. Heather Bangle speaks at SACPA on the topic of child internet exploitation, criminal investigations, computer-related child sexual abuse, luring, and child pornography.

A member of The Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team spoke on its purpose and the topic of child internet exploitation, criminal investigations, computer-related child sexual abuse, luring, and child pornography at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs session on Thursday at the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization.

Guest speaker was RCMP member Heather Bangle of the Southern Alberta Internet Child Exploitation unit (ICE), an investigator with years of experience investigating child exploitation.

“I’m just going to touch on some of the current trends and the offenses that we investigate, and just some things to be aware of,” said Bangle.

Bangle talked about the work she does and the education ICE shares to prevent sexual exploitation of children.

“What we do is we investigate the sexual exploitation of children through the internet. And then we are also now working to reduce harm through public education and prevention programs.”

Bangle noted there are six RCMP corporate alert forensic techs, and a newly established mobile forensic unit – the first in Canada that helps preview devices.

“We have an excellent team with full of, lots of really smart investigators and forensic techs and people that work to put bad guys in jail,” she voiced.

Bangle said there are approximately five to six specialized Crown prosecutors. She said the impact it is to have the specialized Crown prosecutors.

“To have this is huge, because it’s so technical. It’s so specific, there are just things that people don’t understand. And so not having to re-educate a Crown prosecutor every time is huge.”

She noted Cyber Tip to be the Canadian Center for Child Protection and that it is a great resource. Bangle said not only do they work with victims locally and offenders but they also work world-wide.

“We liaise with any and all law enforcement services, because this clearly is a borderless crime. So (if) we might have an offender here in Lethbridge and a victim here in Lethbridge.

“But we also might have an offender here in Lethbridge and the victims in the UK, we might have the victim here and the offenders in Australia. We work with law enforcement all over the place and around the world,” she said.

She warned of individuals who lure teens into sending explicit nude pictures then blackmail them into send money or they will share the pictures with friends and family and how the percentage of this is high among male teens. Bangle also shared the definition of child pornography.

“When I read a warrant, I still have to call it child pornography because that’s the definition in the Criminal Code of Canada. But a lot of times people think of child pornography, they think it’s like the child in the bathtub or you know, kids dressing up all sexy.

“But truly at the end of the day, it is an image it is a photograph, it is a documentation of child sexual routes. It is crime scene, and every time that those images and videos get shared, that child is being re victimized again and again,” said Bangle.

She said Canada has good laws and there can be convictions for written material, such as stories about abusing children and illustrations.

Bangle described the definition of internet luring and how it can be an offense.

“Internet luring is another big one that we deal with. It’s very confusing, offense because there’s a lot of components to it, but the easiest way to describe it is that luring is just someone who uses telecommunication to facilitate an offense, that a secondary offense does not actually have to have occurred.”

She recalled in 2014 how there were approximately 300 to 400 files a year and how those numbers have increased significantly.

“Last year, I think we ended with just over 1,600 files. And that’s just in the South. That’s just with eight to 12 investigators on any given day. So it is unfortunate a lot of these files don’t get action because there’s just not the resources or the time to do it,” said Bangle.

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