CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. – A Crawfordsville man is accused of posing as a female to entice teenage boys to send sexually explicit images of themselves over the internet.
U.S. Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced Tuesday that 27-year-old Drew W. Sutherlin is now facing 15 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.
“Sexual predators cannot be allowed to take advantage of those most vulnerable in our communities,” said Minkler. “Anyone who takes advantage of our youth will be held strictly accountable and will pay a price for their criminal actions.”
Prosecutors said the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office brought them the investigation, part of an effort with the Indiana Crimes Against Children Task Force, FBI and IMPD.
“The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department was proud to work with the our law enforcement partners to help uncover over 14,000 pages of text messages and 17,000 images, the majority of which were sexually explicit in this investigation,” Montgomery County Sheriff Mark Casteel said.
Investigators said from January 2015 until May 2017, Sutherlin sent pornographic images of an actual woman to several boys between the ages of 14 and 17 years old. He would then reportedly ask for sexually explicit images of the boys in return.
Believing they were speaking with an actual female, investigators said the 15 victims sent sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves over the internet. According to court documents, the female was not involved in the criminal activity.
“When people resisted doing that, the victims, he would threaten some of them to ruin their reputations if they didn’t send more material and so forth, we call that sextortion,” senior litigation counsel Steven DeBrota said.
DeBrota has seen this type of crime before, though.
“What we know is that basically using the internet and social networking as a tool these offenders can locate people at risk, they can use it as a weapon, they can use it to distribute material and so forth and pretend to be somebody else.”
He said in the past few months there was a case with 20 victims, and sometimes there are hundreds of victims.
“I think the number of these cases is increasing and we’re successful at investigating them, we know how to do that but the referral of these cases since the social networking revolution started has increased pretty much every year,” DeBrota said.
DeBrota said parents should engage with their children and have them show them what they like to do on social networking.
“The thing that we tell everyone is that the number one prevention of any type of abuse, exploitation or extortion of a child is a parent’s relationship with their child,” said Emily Perry, the founder of Susie’s Place Child Advocacy Centers.
Perry said it starts with a conversation with kids early on and often. She said it’s important parents help kids understand the ramifications of decisions and what to do if they’re asked for more pictures or someone threatens to distribute photos if they don’t send more.
“It could be any kind of conversation that includes protecting them from a hands on child molest situation all the way through how to navigate difficult situations online,” she said. “Kids are being asked to send nude pictures today, it’s common that kids are asked to send sex pictures or nudes or all kinds of different things.”
In this case, DeBrota said Sutherlin has signed a plea agreement notifying the court of his intention to plead guilty. He faces 30 to 35 years in prison and five years to life of supervised release if the court accepts the deal.