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Looking out for others

Mar 29, 2016
by Nichole Pressey

Alumnus Joe Riley’s passion for defending those who can’t defend themselves stems from his desire to protect one specific group of vulnerable individuals: children.

“Its all about the kids,” the 2006 alumnus said about his work for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit in Tampa. There he investigates cases of Internet-based sexual exploitation, a job he took in 2009 after moving from patrol to violent crime.

“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, and Riley said if the offender hadn’t been removed, then other children in the house would have suffered the same fate.

Riley said today’s technology often acts as a double-edged sword: While it provides criminals with a more convenient medium to distribute illegal pornographic material, it also allows law enforcement the opportunity to help innocent victims and track cases.

A History major at Flagler, Riley said his education played a large role in helping him become who he is today. The small campus, with its tight community networks, encouraged him to interact with various members of the community throughout his time at Flagler.

His tip for those looking into the field of criminology is to explore every possible opportunity until they find something that they are absolutely passionate about. That way work becomes much more rewarding.

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. www.missingkids.org

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