Internet Crimes Against Wyoming Children Surge, Up 60% So Far This Year

Internet crimes against children in Wyoming continues to grow at a brisk pace, up 40% in 2023 and already surging with 60% more reports in the first three months of 2024.

Jen Kocher

March 31, 20248 min read

Internet crimes against children in Wyoming were up 40% in 2023, and are already up 60% over that for the first three months of this year.
Internet crimes against children in Wyoming were up 40% in 2023, and are already up 60% over that for the first three months of this year. (Getty Images)

The number of predators abusing children continues to be on the rise in Wyoming as tips to law enforcement and arrests continue to surge.

Chris McDonald, commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, told Cowboy State Daily that he and his team have never been busier.

In 2023, arrests were up 45% over the previous year. Last year, the agency fielded 817 tips that yielded 58 arrests. In 2022, McDonald’s crew arrested 40 suspects out of the 783 tips they received.

The tips come from a variety of sources, including social media platforms and gaming sites, and internet platforms, as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children among other reporting agencies.

So far in 2024, the agency has experienced a 60% surge in tips during the first three months of the year, with 256 tips reported, in contrast to 160 tips over the same period last year.

Despite the uptick in tips, McDonald said his team is doing a good job keeping up because of its efficiency and skills.

Along with himself, the ICAC team is comprised of six full-time investigators, one forensic investigator, one part-time investigator and a network of affiliates throughout the state who are aligned with the agency’s mission.

“We’ve never been busier,” McDonald told Cowboy State Daily, “but we have really talented folks with a great combination of experience and passion.”

This includes young, talented investigators as well as a former head of ICAC from Montana, McDonald said.

Repeat Offenders

Most troubling to McDonald is the trend of repeat offenders in the past year.

“I’m not sure why that is, but it is certainly concerning for us, because we have folks who are already on the sex registry that are recommitting, and the recidivism rate is pretty high,” he said.

He and his team have no answers for what is driving that other than sometimes perpetrators get trained to be better predators.

He’d also like to see sentencing more closely aligned between state and federal courts, specifically when it comes to cases where suspects travel or attempt to travel for sex with a child.

Under the Sexual Exploitation of Children Act passed by the Wyoming Legislature in 1999, offenders can receive up to 12 years, a $10,000 fine or both for sexual crimes against children under the age of 18.

Federal laws, by contrast, are much stricter, he said, noting the conviction of 29-year-old Cheyenne resident Cody Lee Foster, who was sentenced to 60 years in March for raping a child and possessing pornographic videos depicting toddlers and infants.

Under federal statutes, first-time offenders who produce child pornography face a minimum of 15 to 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.


Also disturbing to McDonald is the number of crimes against children being perpetuated by family members or friends. So far this year, his team has seen several production of child pornography cases made by Wyoming people exploiting Wyoming children, he said.

This entails taking sexually exploitative images and videos of children and trading them on the internet and dark web.

“There’s a lot of distribution and available content,” he said. “It’s difficult to keep up, like the worst game of Whack-a-Mole ever.”

On a positive note, the number of teens being sextorted appears to be falling. Sextortion happens when a predator tricks the teen — typically by pretending to be a teen of the opposite sex — into sending sexually explicit videos and images and then demanding money to not share the content with their family and friends.

McDonald credits public awareness and the fact that teenagers are seemingly becoming savvier about these types of catfishing scams.

Internet crimes against children in Wyoming were up 40% in 2023, and are already up 60% over that for the first three months of this year.
Internet crimes against children in Wyoming were up 40% in 2023, and are already up 60% over that for the first three months of this year. (Getty Images)

Are Teens More Savvy?

Part of the national ICAC’s mission is to provide education for parents and youth, and McDonald and his team conduct presentations to students and parents about the dangers of online predation and other topics.

Terri Markham, executive director of the Sheridan-based human trafficking nonprofit Uprising that provides education and trainings for teens, parents, law enforcement, first responders and others, said that they, too, have also seen a downturn in the number of teens self-reporting being approached by strangers online in a way that makes them uncomfortable.

In a recent student training in Green River, Markham said fewer teens disclosed uncomfortable run-ins, which she hopes means teens are getting smarter about sextortion.

That said, the volume of tips being reported speak to an ongoing problem that Markham describes like “shooting fish in a barrel.”

Family Trafficking

It’s a constant deluge that McDonald and his team are working hard to combat, Markham noted, and also cautioned against panicking over the high percentage of tips and arrests. In her view, this means that ICAC is getting much more efficient at catching these predators, including having better technology to do so.

“I can’t say enough good things about Chris and his team,” Markham said. “They are such a well-oiled machine and are getting better and better at catching it.”

She also said that the crux of Wyoming’s sex trafficking problem in her anecdotal experience continues to be familial based on what she’s seen, though there’s no hard data to support it.

“What I’ve found crosses the board, though usually it’s a parent exploiting their child,” she said. “And the top two reasons I see are either money or drugs.”

Either they are attempting to get their next fix, she said, or they are trying to put food on the table for their family.

This type of trafficking is particularly hard to catch given the complicated relationships between family members and the many ways these children can be exploited to not disclosing to friends, teachers or police.

She credits McDonald and his team for doing the “hard work” to catch these predators and said her group regularly sends them gift baskets complete with handwritten notes to let them know how much they’re appreciated.

Raised On Pornography

In terms of tackling the broader problem of sex trafficking and crimes against children in general boils down in Markham’s estimation to a larger societal problem of rampant pornography that’s easily accessible on the internet by children of all ages.

“No one wants to talk about it, but I feel like it’s at the root of demand, and if we could curb demand, we wouldn’t have a problem because there wouldn’t be traffickers trying to meet that demand,” she said.

She said the numbers are startling, quoting a recent survey by Culture Reframed, a national nonprofit that provides educational resources for parents about the sexual harms of pornography on children and youth.

The survey revealed that the average age most teens are exposed to porn is 12 years old with an additional 15% of children age 10 and younger accessing porn for the first time.

Not only does this exposure teach them that violence is a healthy part of sex and a host of other emotional and developmental issues, it also leads to a porn addiction that in many cases leads to purchasing sex in person, Markham said.

In her conversations with sex buyers, every single one without exception admitted to having a porn addiction, many of those beginning at an early age.

“It’s one of the most taboo subjects that parents and adults are afraid to talk to kids about because it’s weird and uncomfortable,” she said.

She knows this firsthand as a mother of three daughters, all of whom she’s had to have these uncomfortable conversations.

She encourages parents and guardians to access the courses and training materials at Culture Reframed and begin talking to their children before they are first exposed to pornography.

More Trafficking Training

Uprising will also host its third annual Greater Rockies Immersive Training on Exploitation and Trafficking (GRIT) conference in Laramie on May 6-8. This year’s topic will be labor trafficking, which Markham said is a growing problem throughout the state.

The conference is open to anyone in the community who might be part of the identification or response in a trafficking case, including members of community-based task forces, church groups and other professionals.

Jen Kocher can be reached at

Share this article



Jen Kocher

Features, Investigative Reporter