LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Technology is continually changing and there is now access to the virtual world from nearly all devices and as the availability of technology grows so does the potential for predators to use that technology to gain access into a child's life.
Computers and phones seem like harmless pieces of technology that generally make life easier but they could be allowing a predator to gain access to your child.
"There are more ways that a stranger can reach right into your child's room through any number of their devices," said Ashley Cook, the community education director for Harold's House.
Children's advocates and law enforcement say they are seeing an increase in the number of sexual assaults where someone begins luring the child in through the virtual world which then leads to contact in the physical world.
"We do have children right here in East Texas who have been abducted or who have been taken away by people across state lines and sexually violated who formed a friendship on the internet," Cook said.
In a recent sexual assault case out of Tyler County, a 12-page affidavit alleges that 25-year-old Crockett Roddam used apps such as "Kik Messenger" and "Snapchat" to talk with a 13-year-old girl and eventually lure her into meeting up with him to have sex.
"Kik is one of the newer technologies, the newer apps, where children will send a picture and it will disappear like Snapchat and all these terminologies can really confuse parents," Cook said.
So how can parents keep this from happening in their homes? Cook said communication is key.
"You need to talk to your children about having their passwords," Cook said. "Letting your children know this is going to be an open communication, you know I need to be able to see your technology at any time."
Angelina County Sheriff Greg Sanches said, "Monitor children, talk to children, communicate with children, educate them about this."
However, Sanches stressed what he thought was the most important way to protect kids online.
"Only accept friends that they know are actually friends and you can control that," Sanches said.
"When you're online you're not revealing your name, you're not revealing what school you're going to or your school mascot or any private information about yourself and to realize that anyone online can be anybody else," Cook said. "It could be an adult who is portraying themselves as a 12-year-old friend or they might be preying on a child who is particularly vulnerable."
Cook went on to say red flags are persons who make a lot of sexually explicit jokes or anybody who is trying to get a child to talk about themselves and their life, or their relationships with their parents. She also said parents should be suspicious of people trying to find out if their kids are lonely.
"We will track them down. We have capability of doing that. Do our job, investigate that and catch that person and hopefully they'll be prosecuted to the fullest," Sanches said.