In Southern California, one hardworking mom isn’t just looking out for her own children in our increasingly dangerous world—she’s helping to rescue countless others.
In an eye-opening interview with The Epoch Times, Santa Ana mom Kerry Torres described her crucial work as a Police Investigative Specialist, combing the web for traces of child exploitation and sexual abuse materials under the Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD).
Torres spends her days seeing the absolute worst of the internet—and helping to fight it—and comes home to her own children.
“To come home and to be a mom, and not bring it home and not let it affect me, that’s always a challenge,” Torres told The Epoch Times. “Because sometimes I don’t want to turn off my computer, sometimes I don’t want it to be end of day—because there’s one thing more I could be doing.”
Since SAPD created its online task force last year, Torres has closed about 180 cases of child exploitation.
“There’s probably nothing worse than what investigators have to watch and what we look at,” she said. “The whole job is a challenge—to be able to do what I do, and give my 100 percent focus to my victims that are out there and that need help.”
Torres and the department’s task force cooperate with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), a collaboration of 61 federal, state, and local agencies and more than 4,500 officials investigating online crimes against children.
Most of the tips assigned to Torres come from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a tip line and data reporting service for exploited children all over the country.
In 2019 alone, NCMEC reported receiving 16.9 million reports from its cyber tip hotline relating to child sexual abuse material, online enticement, and child molestation. When NCMEC assigns a tip to its Southern California branch, officials comb through information and assign the investigation to the closest local agency.
In December, Torres was assigned a staggering 56 tips.
“We just have a very large amount, unfortunately, of cyber tips that come through,” she said. “It’s almost daily, sometimes a couple a day.”
Unsurprisingly, Torres says her job is incredibly emotionally taxing. “I literally told myself, ‘Either you can do this, or you can’t,’” she said of her internal struggle when the task force was first launched.
Torres’ desire to fight for these children won out, and she joined the task force. “I really want to stop these people,” she told The Epoch Times, “so if this is the part that I get to play in helping literally the world’s most vulnerable population, then I’m in.”
The job Torres puts her hands to each day is unique in that she is not a sworn-in officer like her colleagues. That hasn’t stopped her, she explained, and it shouldn’t stop other civilians who want to fight this battle: “Just because you can’t be a sworn law enforcement officer, there are civilian options out there, and you can do this too.”
Naturally, Torres’ job has made her very considerate of the harms her own children must avoid when using the internet, something she thinks every parent must be aware of.
“I think that parents really need to understand social media and what’s out there,” Torres said. “I have children, and I’m fairly tough on my kids, and I know that. But I mean, this is what I see every single day.”
For her own children, who range from elementary school-age to teens, Torres doesn’t allow cell phones in the bathroom and sets strict screen time limits.
“My kids are closely monitored. We have conversations about the stranger danger,” she said. “If [parents] would have the conversations, if they would just keep the extra eye; it’s OK to monitor what the kids are doing online…because when they’re not being monitored is when these people are taking advantage of the children.”
Torres urged parents to be fully aware of the apps their children are using and who they’re talking to online, keep their children’s devices in public areas of the house only, and make sure their children know that they must tell an adult if anyone online makes them feel scared or uncomfortable.
When asked what one of the scariest parts of Torres’ job is, she gave a rather stunning answer: realizing that the suspects she deals with are “definitely people that you see everyday.”
“I don’t think that you could ever look at people and just pick them out. There’s no type,” she said, explaining that the individuals who abuse and exploit children often appear to be perfectly normal members of society.
Catching them, Torres added, is what makes her tough job worth it all.
“I absolutely love what I do,” Torres declared. “And I love getting to arrest the people that are wronging these kids. There’s just nothing better.”
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