ORLANDO, Fla. - They're some of the hottest places to cool down, especially as we head into the summer. Whether you're sliding or splashing, Central Florida has some of the most popular water parks in the world. But they also come with a black eye.
Over the last few years, we've seen more cases of sex predators going after children right in the parks.
But, we found that parents can do simple things and make a big difference in protecting your kids.
"There's so many weird people out there, and you want to keep your kids safe," says Rose Shulgay, who's on vacation at water parks in Orlando with her daughter from New York.
But the threat of sex predators puts them in edge during an otherwise relaxing time.
"You don't ever know who it's going to be," says Stephanie Shulgay.
As thousands of people flood our local water parks, parents know that the danger is out there.
"I always watch people. I want to know who's around them," says Sean Melendy, who's visiting from Missouri.
Michelle Harlan from New Jersey agrees, saying, "They're predators. They do the thing that a kid wants most to lure them in, and that's so many things for a two-year-old."
According to the Orange County Sheriff's Office and Orlando police, there were four reports last year of children being inappropriately touched by strangers -- three at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and one at SeaWorld's Aquatica.
That's up from just one report in 2010.
But in 2009, at least five men were arrested at water parks, accused of molesting children.
"When you have a resort area, and you have water parks, you're going to have those problems," says Cpl. Marcus Camacho, who works with the Crime Prevention Unit of the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
"People who have that way of thinking are going to be attracted to those areas," adds Camacho. He says parents need to use common sense to keep their kids safe.
"Some of these predators who go to the beach, or go to the water parks, or who go to a public pool, know the parents have a habit of changing their children in front of other people," says Camacho.
Disney and Aquatica tell Local 6 that they have security measures in place to protect children from predators. They couldn't give us specific information, because that would compromise their effectiveness. But they add that they take the threat of child sex predators very seriously.
In the end, authorities say that supervision is key and being over-aware is better than anything.
"Pay attention, keep an eye on them, and educate them on the dangers of straying away from mom and dad," says Corporal Camacho.
And because these people could be hiding in broad daylight, Corporal Camacho says you need to watch out for strange behavior.
"It's not just a matter of because a person has long hair, or a person has tattoos, or a certain color skin. It's the behavior of that person," he adds. "The guy or the gal who's standing around every time a child walks by, and it piques their attention, and the child is maybe not with a parent. Those are things other parents and employees need to be aware of."
Under state law, anyone convicted of lewd or lascivious acts on a minor cannot work at water parks.
But they are allowed to buy a ticket and walk right in.
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