U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said last week that 15 defendants in cases involving the exploitation of children have been charged, pleaded guilty or were sentenced in recent weeks.

That was just in the Western Pennsylvania area, and several of the cases involved crimes committed in our area.

Brady’s announcement came the day before a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher was charged with sexual offenses against a former Scottdale teen and allegations were lodged that a sitting state senator was viewing child pornography.

Mike Folmer, a 63-year-old Lebanon Republican, resigned from the Senate last week, citing “personal problems/issues.”

State police alleged pitcher Felipe Vazquez, now suspended, admitted to police that he knew the then-13-year-old girl he was exchanging explicit messages with was underage.

Confronted by troopers about the messages, Vazquez reportedly admitted to touching the girl in a sexual manner and described the child as “already being ready” for sex.

While all of those facing criminal charges related to the sexual abuse and exploitation of children are presumed innocent, the allegations are nothing short of disgusting.

With disturbing frequency, similar charges of child exploitation and sexual abuse are filed across the country every day.

The internet is a powerful tool, and the smartphones most people carry are essentially hand-held computers.

Yet, at younger and younger ages, we hand these powerful tools to our children. In 2016, the research firm Influence Central found the average child’s first smartphone is in their hands at 10.3 years old.

In 2012, the average age was 12.

Keep in mind, that’s a smartphone — it doesn’t take into account tablets or iPods, which some children receive at earlier ages.

While they all offer parental controls and the ability to monitor content, many children have an edge over their parents with technology. In plainer speak: they may know how to get around it.

And while we may preach to them about the dangers of online communication, children are apt to seek out what they cannot have, believing they are invulnerable to predators.

There is, after all, a screen between them.

It is that belief that makes them just the opposite, allowing them to become potential prey for those seeking to exploit them.

Some of the federal cases involved men who met minors online, meeting them to have sexual contact or trying to arrange such a meeting.

Other cases involved possession, production or distribution of child pornography.

There are numerous other, similar cases filed by our state or local police.

Those tasked with investigating such crimes are heroes for bringing a modicum of justice to the children who are victims.

The scars those who exploit them leave behind, however, will never be erased by arrest or imprisonment.

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