COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - What makes a predator attracted to young children? What makes them act on their attraction? Assistant Attorney General Bethany Miles thinks she has a decent idea.
"A lot of these defendants and offenders look for girls who are early teens or even younger who are in vulnerable places in their lives and really take advantage of that to perpetrate these crimes against them," said Miles.
Miles is an assistant attorney general for the Internet Crimes Against Children task force. She's prosecuted dozens of cases where predators are in possession of child pornography and cases where they've assaulted a child.
She recalls the story of 38-year-old Isaac Flynn.
"He befriended the victim in this case. The conversations turned sexual and ultimately he traveled to Kershaw County and engaged in sexual activity with her," said Miles.
He met his teenaged victim on Facebook through his daughter's account.
"Everyone thinks they know what a serial killer looks like," said Attorney General Alan Wilson. "Serial killers don't look like serial killers. Child predators don't look like child predators. That's one thing that parents, teachers and even kids got to get through their heads."
After he sexually assaulted her, Miles says Flynn came back to meet another.
"He ultimately traveled again to Kershaw County to meet what he thought to be a 14-year-old girl and he was caught by law enforcement at the time," said Miles.
Flynn is currently serving a 20 year sentence. Experts say he is not unlike many online predators. But research is still being done to understand why they target young children.
"We're trying to figure out what the red flags for parents are," said MUSC psychiatrist Dr. Gregg Dwyer. "But similar to what we would tell parents about interactions with their children in person to think about, would still apply. Why is an adult interacting with your elementary-aged child? Is there some reason they should be interacting?"
Dwyer says there can be three types of predators. First, those with an illness.
"They actually have a disease called pedophilia," said Dwyer. "Here, their sexual interest and arousal is to children who haven't even started puberty yet."
Then, those whose relationships and most human interaction takes place online.
"And that may be a result of having difficulty with their social skills, interaction with others, so they want to be in a situation where they have control over the interaction," said Dwyer.
Dwyer says that group may never want to meet their victims in person but can still victimize through webcams and chats.
"There's also the potential of folks that are online engaged in looking for all kinds of different sexual activity and this happens to be one of them and it may not be the result of having an interest in that age group," said Dwyer.
Regardless of the category, Dwyer says it's common for predators like Flynn to spend weeks or months grooming their victims.
"This adult that wants to engage in this behavior is going to have to get that child past those natural blocks and fear of engaging in them," said Dwyer.
According to online chats, Flynn led the victim to believe a lie, creating an image of trust and protection.
"It's hard to work on these cases then go home to their child and not always worry about the world they'll grow up in," said Miles.
Attorney General Wilson says in the end, it's important to not be scared of the Internet and to ultimately educate yourself.
"You need to learn it, you need to understand it because your children are out there, and if you don't know what you're doing, then your child is potentially susceptible to being preyed upon," said Wilson.