BOCA RATON The bad news: The sex crimes unit is one of Broward State Attorney Michael Satz's fastest-growing departments.
The good news: Detectives and prosecutors are getting together to discuss how to build successful cases.
Forty-five South Florida investigators, victims advocates and prosecutors began a three-day conference Tuesday in Boca Raton, hosted by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
The meeting has speakers from the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and other law enforcement agencies who will discuss sex crimes, human trafficking, Internet investigations and abducted children.
Stacey Honowitz, supervisor of the Broward State Attorney's Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit, shared tales from past cases of how difficulties with witnesses and prominent suspects and other stumbling blocks were resolved.
She also revealed some felons' methods, including one who impersonated a doctor to molest a child in a hospital bed, and another who chose autistic children as his targets because they cannot easily communicate abuse.
She called pedophiles "master manipulators" of mothers and their children, and of employers who are not inclined to make criminal background checks.
"The single mom is the perfect target because she's desperate to have a male role model in their lives," Honowitz said.
The abuse is frequently structured as a game between adult and child, she said.
"They do it to make it appear that what's going on is natural and beautiful and fun, and say to the child, 'If you tell your mommy, I won't be able to take you to the arcade,' " she said.
An author of two books on abuse for parents and children, with a third to be released this fall, Honowitz said education will help as a preventative, but it's not foolproof.
"No matter how often you tell a 4-year-old that someone shouldn't touch your privates, but [a pedophile] is taking them to Toys "R" Us or giving them cookies, they won't tell," she said.
She said the stigma of being a pedophile's victim is diminishing. She is seeing adult victims testify in cases decades later, despite the trauma of reliving the crime.
"That's why celebrities are coming forward, because they were molested by somebody and never got help," Honowitz said. "That's why our unit is growing, because people are realizing just how important this is."