GREENVILLE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Investigators in Greenville County who work on child sex crimes have a tough job, but 7News learned the job is getting tougher.
“Children have become almost the go-to victims for a lot of crime,” explained Captain James Beaver, Specialized Investigation Division.
Over the years, investigators have seen an increase in local children being physically or sexually exploited, Beaver said.
Whether it’s happening more, or just being reported more frequently, is unclear, he said.
“Daily, we receive new cases, and that’s on top of the cases that we’re currently working and are trying to resolve already,” Beaver said.
While more and more cases are opened, Beaver said the Crimes Against Children and Internet Crimes Against Children units have been struggling to take them all on.
“The investigators really have a hard time keeping up just because of the volume of cases,” Beaver said.
In 2018, Crimes Against Children reported opening 866 cases.
Internet Crimes Against Children, which deals with a high volume of child pornography cases, opened 295 cases.
Of the 295 cases, 159 of them were referrals from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, based out of Arlington Virginia.
“It’s very difficult to get deputies to work these cases because they are physically demanding, and mentally demanding…” explained Sergeant Robert Perry, an investigator on the Crimes Against Children unit.
According to Perry, there are currently only five investigators for what should be an eight-person unit, but due to what can be horrific and disturbing parts of the job, the positions are hard to fill.
“Inappropriate touching to sexual abuse, to sexual assault.” he added. “It’s a big issue and it needs to be addressed in the community as well.”
While the workload increases on top of a shortage of investigators, stress within the Specialized Investigations Division can also take it’s toll.
For Perry, one photo from a case that haunted him years ago, still hangs on his wall in his office.
“There are days when you take cases home. I have a picture that hangs on my wall of two twin children that we found who had been locked up in a room for two years,” Perry said.
Rather than letting the upsetting memories get to him, Perry told 7News he uses the photo as a reminder to keep on working.
“I call them ghosts in the window because they stare down at me all the time, and they kind of keep me in check and make sure that I’m doing the most I can for the children that come across my desk in these cases,” Perry said.
Investigator Cheri Lyda with the Crimes Against Children Unit also explained that mentally, days can get difficult.
“I have those days where I say I just can’t handle this anymore, this is too much stress or this is too sad for me, but then when I go home and think about it,” she said Thursday. “I think okay, if I don’t do it and we all felt that way, who would defend these children?”
The six-year veteran of the unit also said that she uses her love of children as motivation, even during the dark times.
One of her most recent cases made local headlines, after a local foster parent was arrested for sex crimes against children he fostered throughout the years.
She said what pushes herself forward is finding the silver lining.
“There’s that time when you see that child at the grocery store that you helped two years, ago and they run up and hug you, or their mom runs up and hugs you and says thank you. That makes it all worth it,” Lyda said.
Greenville County investigators also have access to a golden-doodle named Sergeant Willow.
According to Beaver, counseling opportunities are offered quarterly.