A Calgary man has been charged with the sexual assault and exploitation of three teenage girls he reportedly contacted online.
The first victim, a 12-year-old girl, was identified after a family member reported witnessing a conversation between the girl and a 56-year-old man online, where the family member believed the child was being sexually abused.
The Calgary Police Service child abuse unit launched an investigation, which led them to the family of a 14-year-old girl the man is accused of contacting online, purchasing things from her and then sexually assaulting her.
A third victim, another 14-year-old girl, was also identified through the course of the investigation.
"The man allegedly met the girls in the community, then shared his cell phone number with them and sought them out on social media," police said.
"He also regularly spent time alone with them. It is believed he was in contact with the 12-year-old girl over the course of several months.
"During the time spent with the girls, the man paid the girls money, bought them vapes, drugs and food and drove them around the city, touching them sexually while alone with them."
Police said because the girls were under the age of 16, they were not legally able to consent.
Det. Amy Spence with the child abuse unit said the primary social media platform investigators see used in these cases is Snapchat. She urged parents and guardians to be "very aware" of childrens' social media accounts, and who they're interacting with online.
"We often see friend requests come about with the child or youth not truly knowing the identity of that person and that's where we're often seeing this as a starting point," she said.
Stacey Shilbey was arrested on Wednesday at his home in Calgary and charged with three counts each of sexual assault, sexual interference and obtaining sexual services for consideration of a minor. He was also charged with two counts each of invitation to sexual touching of a minor.
"The mental and emotional impacts of sexual abuse and exploitation are beyond devastating and can last a lifetime," Spence said.
"Holding offenders accountable for their actions is only one part of the success of an investigation. Our priority is to provide victims with the necessary support and resources to ensure a healing path forward and to help educate others about the signs of abuse."
The three victims are being supported by the Luna Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, which offers supports to children, youth and families impacted by sexual abuse.
The centre's CEO Karen Orser says they work with the police on thousands of cases of sexual abuse each year. Orser says it's important that parents have check-in conversations with their children, and said there are some warning signs to look out for.
"We want to recognize sudden changes in behaviour performances, school, unexplained injuries, extreme behavioural reactions" Orser said. She also suggests that sexual knowledge or "behaviour that's beyond their stage of development" are other potential red flags.
Spence said it was important to make "very, very clear (that) it is never the child or youth's fault."
"It's not a matter of victims falling for anything - this is not ever a crime that is the victim's faultm" she said.
"This is predators out in our community that are targeting young kids for a variety of reasons."
Police said while there's a lot of educating of youth and children happening, more can be done to keep that education up to date with the constantly changing social media platforms, and the way they're used by children and predators.
Anyone in need of sexual abuse supports or information is encouraged to visit the advocacy centre's website.
Calgary police also advise anyone who believes they, or someone they know, are a victim of sexual abuse or exploitation, to contact authorities at 4030-266-1234 or to contact Crime Stoppers. If a crime is in progress, people should call 911.