Breaking News
More () »

Reports of child sexual abuse material rises in digital era

"I just think that the mechanism for getting it out to the world is stronger than it's ever been," said Joseph Scaramucci with the McLennan Co. Sheriff's Office.

MCLENNAN COUNTY, Texas — The McLennan County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) arrested a Central Texas man over the weekend after investigators found he sent child sexual abuse material through social media apps.

The Sheriff’s Office said Leonard Newman of Mart abused four children. He is being held in the McLennan County Jail on a $600,000 bond.

His charges include:

  • Sexual Performance of a Child
  • Distribution of Child Pornography
  • Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child x 2
  • Continuous Trafficking of Persons (minor) x 2

The sheriff's office says Newman admitted to the crimes in multiple interviews  the day he was arrested.

Joseph Scaramucci, lead detective of the human trafficking unit for the MCSO, says child abuse and exploitation isn't the easiest to catch.

"It's such a hidden crime and it's behind closed doors," he said.

That is until it reaches the internet or technology, like in the case of Newman.

"While it makes it easier for criminals to commit online crimes, it also makes it easier for us to identify them, track them and work undercover cases," Scaramucci explained.

Scaramucci told 6 News Newman was sharing child sexual abuse material on the app Kik, which is known to law enforcement to have child sexual exploitation content. He says Snapchat and Discord apps are too. 

Scaramucci said he can't say the rise of child sexual abuse material is because of the digital age, but he knows that sharing content is more popular, just like Newman did in a peer-to-peer conversation.

"What I do think is increasing is the ability for people to share that information," he said. "I just think that the mechanism for getting it out to the world is stronger than it's ever been."

In 2021, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline received 29.3 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation, an increase of 35 percent from 2020.

Of those 29 million reports included 84.9 million images and videos of child sexual abuse material.

"I think it's only going to get worse as technology boosts," Scaramucci said. "You're only going to have more and more people who are flocking to whatever given app, website, whatever it is."

The good thing for detectives like Scaramucci, they know where the predators are and they have the tools to go after them. The MCSO's Human Trafficking Unit has made several arrests like in Newman's case, but the biggest difference this time around is that they were able to arrest someone who was producing the the child sexual abuse content. Scaramucci said fortunately Newman won't be further victimizing children.

To report online child sexual exploitation, use the electronic Cyber Tip Line or call 1-800-843-5678. The Cyber Tip Line is operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in partnership with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

Before You Leave, Check This Out