Joe Riley’s passion for defending those who can’t defend themselves stems from his desire to protect one specific group of vulnerable individuals.
“Its all about the kids,” he said. The Flagler alumnus, ’06, works for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit in Tampa, investigating cases of Internet-based sexual exploitation. He took the job in 2009 after moving from patrol to violent crime units.
“Getting these people (sexual offenders) off the street and keeping them from exploiting children is extremely rewarding and outweighs the emotional toll,” he said.
A study reported by the University of Pennsylvania estimates as many as 325,000 children in the United States, Canada and Mexico are at risk each year for becoming victims of sexual exploitation.
In the last year, Riley’s unit investigated five child exploitation cases in which the child was still living with the person who victimized them. By prosecuting the offender, the unit was able to take the child out of that situation and change the environment that they were being exposed to.
In some cases, multiple children have resided in a home where only one was being exploited. If the offender had not been removed from the situation, according to Riley, then other children in the house would have had the same fate. The unit strives to break this chain reaction.
Unfortunately, Riley added, cases of child exploitation move at a consistent rate. Technology works as a double-edged sword: While it provides criminals with a more convenient medium to distribute illegal pornographic material, it also facilitates helping innocent victims and tracking cases.
The History major is not remiss in acknowledging the role Flagler College played in helping him prepare for his future. The small campus, with its tight community networks, encouraged him to interact with various members of the community throughout his time at Flagler.
Riley’s tip for those looking to have a job in criminology is to take every possible opportunity until they find something that they are absolutely passionate about; that way, work isn’t so much work, but a passion to be fulfilled.
As for his advice to parents wanting to protect their children from sexual exploitation, Riley said: “Staying involved in your kids’ life, even if it’s just talking about their day, can help curb this stuff and make parents more aware about what’s going on in their life.”
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website provides more educational information on improving child safety and reporting victims of exploitation.