The Pender County Sheriff's Office is cracking down on sex offenders. In the past three weeks alone, three people have been charged with multiple counts of sex offenses against children. The Pender County Sheriff's Office said sex crimes against minors are not on the rise. Investigators have been able to charge the alleged offenders because more victims are reporting the crimes. Forty-two year-old Tracy Shepard is charged with ten counts of first degree sex offense with a child, and another 10 counts of indecent liberties with a child. Dennis Stephen Johnston of Burgaw is charged with two counts of statutory sex offense and two counts of indecent liberties with a child. Thirty-eight-year-old Isidro Gazca is facing counts of statutory sex offense and indecent liberties with a child. His victims range in age from seven to 13. Detectives with the Pender County Sheriff's Department say that, in one of these cases, children as young as one year old have been victims. Detective Scott Lawson said, "All of these cases we're talking about have come about because children made an off hand remark to their parents. They had an open line of communication with their parent and their parent realized something was wrong and brought it to the attention of law enforcement." A local child advocacy organization, the Carousel Center, services 17 North Carolina counties, including Pender. Advocates there say it is that communication between parents and children that is the most important factor in preventing these sorts of crimes. Sex abuse can be a difficult crime to prosecute. The Carousel Center said that out of 284 new sexual abuse cases last year, only 44 offenders were prosecuted.
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