The Bulletin Board

COVID in the 603: More screen time means more reports of internet crimes against children

By: - September 23, 2021 2:54 pm

Merrimack County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Kevin Furlong has years of experience working on cases involving internet crimes against children. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Much of COVID-19’s fallout has gotten a lot of attention: Mental health complaints are up, students have fallen behind, burned-out health care workers are leaving the field. This hasn’t: The state has seen a surge in its reports of internet crimes against children, doubling from about 50 to 100 per month.

“We’re basically telling the entire United States of America to stay home all day and be on your electronic devices,” said Deputy Kevin Furlong of the Merrimack County Sheriff’s Office. “So, you have the victims that are on the computers more, but you also have the offenders that are on computers more.”

New Hampshire is not alone. 

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children saw reports of online “sexploitation” increase nearly 98 percent in 2020, according to the center’s website. Most of the time, offenders are known to victims and include parents, guardians, other relatives, babysitters or coaches, or family friends, according to the center. 

Merrimack County Sheriff David Croft.
Merrimack County Sheriff Dave Croft recruited Furlong.

Merrimack County Sheriff Dave Croft recruited Furlong, who has years of experience working these types of cases, away from his job as Mont Vernon’s police chief in response to New Hampshire’s surge. 

Furlong is helping small local police departments that have limited resources investigate tips coming in from online platforms like Snapchat and Kik, and people who see suspicious activity online. They are most often reporting people sharing explicit photos and videos of children, but there are also reports of adults trying to entice children to share images of themselves or meet in person.

“The (police departments’) concerns were … they just don’t have the manpower, don’t have the knowledge or the skill level, and don’t have the equipment needed to really dig deep into the weeds with this thing,” Croft said. 

Furlong’s hire adds Merrimack County to the list of affiliates working with the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Adults seeking guidance on protecting children from online predators can find a video on the task force website.

A chart showing who commits crimes against children on the internet
(Source: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

Dashboard data

Now we take a look at the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, where you’ll find a surge in new cases but not in the state’s vaccination rate, which has held steady at about 61 percent of residents eligible for the vaccine since early July. 

The most recent data shows new daily vaccinations have dropped off significantly, with 37 on Sunday, 48 on Monday, and 28 on Tuesday. (This lines up with recent polls from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which said very few unvaccinated people can be persuaded to be vaccinated at this point.) 

The state Department of Health and Human Services is running two mobile vaccine vans around the state, to food pantries, community events, state parks, churches, and local fire departments. And it’s putting the final touches on the second phase of a $1.3 million marketing campaign aimed at getting more people vaccinated. 

So far, its efforts have not had a big impact on vaccination numbers. About 739,000 (61.7 percent) of New Hampshire’s 1.19 million residents eligible for a vaccine have been fully vaccinated, according to the dashboard. What the dashboard doesn’t tell you is what percentage of certain age groups are vaccinated, which would be useful if you wanted to know which age groups to target with an outreach effort. 

For example, the dashboard says 47,862 people between the ages of 12 and 19 have been vaccinated. If the site reported how many residents fall into that age group, you’d have the percentage. But it doesn’t, so that means you’ll have to do some math. And then you’ll be close but probably not exact. 

For example, New Hampshire’s lowest age bracket is 12 to 19, the youngest group eligible for the vaccine. If you visit the U.S. Census Bureau site with 2019 population counts, the most recently available for comparable age groups, about 42 percent of that group are vaccinated. Clearly, there’s a group to target if you’re trying to boost vaccination numbers. And the next age group, 20 to 29, is worth looking at, too, with about 43 percent fully vaccinated. Which group is leading the way? Those ages 70-79 at about 86 percent, according to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau numbers. 

Chart of state vaccination rates
(Source: Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 dashboard)

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.