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Veteran TV correspondent arrested for illegal contact with 9-yr-old, as child sexual exploitation cases surge

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A former TV medical correspondent has been arrested after he allegedly asked a 9-year-old girl to send him sexually inappropriate photos of herself.

The former chief medical correspondent for KNBC in Los Angeles and New York was arrested Wednesday on a felony charge of contact with a minor for sexual purposes, KABC reported.

(Video: KABC)

Dr. Bruce Hensel reportedly contacted the child, who was the daughter of an acquaintance, through an online messaging app in August, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. A search of Hansel’s Pacific Palisades home last month by the Los Angeles Regional Internet Crimes Against Children task force led to his arrest this week after a child sexual exploitation investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department.

The 71-year-old was the recipient of several Emmy awards and was the medical correspondent for KNBC for nearly 30 years as well as serving as a medical professor at UCLA. A Showtime documentary about transgender relationships called “Beyond the Opposite Sex,” was co-directed and produced by Hensel last year.

Hensel faces a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison if convicted. He was released after posting $5,000 bail and will be arraigned at a later date.

“Dr. Hensel is completely innocent of the charge. We are cooperating with the authorities and look forward to a speedy and complete exoneration,” his attorney, Steve Sitkoff, said in a statement, according to KABC.

Hensel’s arrest comes as child exploitation cases are reportedly on the rise and the Trump administration is making tackling the crimes a priority. Homeland Security investigators have identified more than 1,000 victims in the 2019 budget year which has seen thousands of arrests in more than 4,000 cases worldwide, according to The Associated Press.

“With the dark web on there, the content is becoming more prevalent and more horrific,” Matt Wright, the chief for the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit at Homeland Security Investigations, said.

Agents who are part of the division of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement do not deal with immigration but with investigations related to money, drug smuggling or child sex trafficking.

“While we are within ICE, our primary function is as criminal investigators,” the agency’s cyber division assistant director, Joanna Ip, said. “We do criminal investigations with customs and immigration authorities — anything that comes in and out of the border.”

HSI investigators noted that encryption tools have become easier to use and as online storage costs drop, the number of images exploited online has increased. A new center at ICE’s Washington headquarters, which will be staffed with representatives from the US Marshals office and US Customs and Border Protection, will be alerting other countries when registered US sex offenders travel abroad.  A law signed in 2016 by former President Obama required the notification of travel by sex offenders.

“We’re trying to stay at the cutting edge of technology but also paying attention with what the offenders are using,” Wright said.

According to Associated Press:

ICE’s acting director, Matt Albence, said Thursday that in one instance, a notification was sent to the United Kingdom that a registered sex offender from Washington was headed there. When that individual was inspected at the border, he was discovered with child abuse imagery, and he’d been traveling to the U.K. to take part in a youth cheerleading camp as an instructor.

He was deported and his devices were confiscated, Albence said. The search turned up more than 7,000 instances of child abuse images and videos. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison in May 2019.

“If only a fraction of those notifications saved a child from having to carry the lasting scars of sexual abuse and exploitation,” then the center is worth it, Albence said.

Frieda Powers

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