The Paradigm of Investigating Internet Crimes Against Children

I came across this guy’s blog, Dr. Frank Kardasz (ED.D.). According to his blog page, he “is an Arizona peace officer assigned to the investigations of Internet crimes against children.” On the page I have highlighted below, he wrote an excellent piece – based on much research and news articles, not just opinion – on the paradigm that exists for officers trying to investigate Internet crimes against children.

His post is very very long and detailed, while remaining interesting and thoughtful throughout. His arguments are backed-up and supported by evidence and the message is clear: the Internet is a huge entity that we all must work together to embrace and make safe for our kids, who can easily become helpless victims of the dangers within.

It’s a very excellent read. I have highlighted important notes below that resonated with me, but please take the time to click over and read the whole thing. It’s a great perspective from someone fighting the fight!

A lot of the stuff in here (again, see the real article for some great details and stats, please!) should serve as a reminder to parents that they need to do what they can do within the home and not rely on outside enforcement (whether it be law, website, etc.). PC Pandora version 5 can be the most valuable tool in your 21st century parenting duffle bag of tools.

Investigating Internet Crimes Against Children: Seeking A New Law Enforcement Paradigm
Dr. Frank Kardasz, April 14, 2008

[Highlights and excerpts from the above blog post]

The Internet opened an uninhibited world of wild digital wonder to our generation. Sadly, a troubling dark side to the World Wide Web exists where improved law enforcement efforts are needed. The quiet collision of young people and sex offenders on the Internet has resulted in a desperate cyber-struggle for the protection of children.

For the first time in history, law enforcement officers in the 21st century possess proactive undercover methods to identify and bring to justice those who sexually abuse minors. Proactive investigations using undercover officer posing as minors have been successful in identifying many offenders who have also committed contact “hands-on” offenses against real victims.

Constitutional Conflicts
The Commerce Clause of the US Constitution (Article I, Section 8, and Clause 3) has been interpreted as giving some authority over the Internet to Congress but legislators are reticent to tread on the perceived First Amendment freedoms of information and expression that the Internet provides. In the interim, and until effective controls are in place, minors who become victims of Internet sex offenders are not receiving the equal protection and due processes guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. More work is needed to resolve these constitutional conflicts.

Thomas Jefferson wrote [about] the discovery of “new truths.” One of the new truths discovered in the exploration of cyberspace is that the Internet is a conduit of both good and evil. Jefferson may have opined that constitutionally protected rights to free expression are in question when they permit the rights of children to be horribly violated.

Unlawful Images
Internet crimes involving unlawful images of the sexual abuse of children are now widespread and the number of images and videos available via cyberspace is probably incalculable. A Congressional study in 2006 identified several key factors that contributed to the proliferation of child pornography on the Internet. First, and perhaps most problematic according to the study, is the sheer number of child abuse images on the Internet. United States law enforcement sources estimated approximately 3.5 million known child pornography images online.

The exact number of child pornography web sites is also difficult to determine.

Luring and Enticement
In luring/enticement cases involving actual teens, few of the minors who are victimized ever report the crimes. Victimized teens are often too embarrassed to notify law enforcement and fearful of their parents’ wrath for disobeying rules against communicating with strangers online. Sometimes a teen returns home after secretly meeting an Internet stranger without his or her parents ever discovering the illicit tryst.

In many cases, the teens who are lured by sexual predators will never come forward due to fear or a misplaced sense of guilt. A few of them, like 13 year old Kasie Woody of Arkansas, and 13 year old Christina Long of Connecticut, were forever silenced by Internet sexual predators who lured them via the Internet, sexually victimized them and killed them.

Child prostitution is also being facilitated via the Internet. Pimps use message boards and social networking sites to find customers seeking to engage in paid sex acts with minors.

In the past, child molesters were characterized as often lurking near school yards. Folklore held that child molesters frequented school yards because that is where the children were. The Internet is the new proverbial schoolyard. Cyberspace provides a ready hunting-ground for those who seek children.

The Internet is an extraordinarily important part of the daily lives of millions of young people. For some youngsters cyberspace is more influential than school, family or religion.

Most social networking sites are free and permit users to register without providing information about the users’ true identities or whereabouts. The sites are well suited for molesters who can pose as harmless mentors while disguising their true intent.

Unfortunately, a very few law enforcement agencies have personnel devoted to proactive investigations of offenders who lure and entice minors.

Disenfranchised Youth are Perfect Victims
Children and teens are disenfranchised from social and political power. Some children who become the victims of child pornography offenses are too young to phone 911 for police assistance.

Funding for Internet crime investigations is relatively small. Most police departments have many more traffic cops than crimes against children investigators. Offenders know that children are easily intimidated into silence and often cannot communicate well enough to be understood by authorities. For offenders, disenfranchised children are perfect victims partly because the crimes are invisible to law enforcement and children are powerless.

Internet Service Providers
Internet service providers (ISP) are the unwitting facilitators of Internet crimes against children. ISP’s provide offenders with the connections to the web that allows crimes to occur. Without a cyberspace connection provided by an ISP, Internet crime would impossible. Some conscientious ISP’s are taking helpful steps to provide crime prevention education information to users but more assistance to law enforcement is needed.

In 1998, a federal law was passed (Cornell Law School, 2007) requiring ISP’s to report child pornography to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). By 2002, thousands of reports were flooding into NCMEC from those ISP’s that chose to comply with the law. Those reports were subsequently sent to federal, state and local agencies for investigation. The large number of reports quickly overwhelmed the small staffs of those few agencies that employed investigators who had the technical expertise needed to investigate Internet crimes.

A small survey of law enforcement investigators in 2006 showed that the number one need of those who investigate Internet crimes against children was for improved responses from Internet service providers.

In the same way that automobile manufacturers begrudgingly gave way, after thousands of roadway deaths, to regulations mandating vehicle safety, ISP’s must provide improved Internet safety before the annual number of Internet crimes matches the annual number of vehicular accidents.

Media and Unlawful Images
In cases involving unlawful images and videos, the crimes against children facilitated by the Internet are sometimes so horrible that the news media is unable or unwilling to fully describe the incidents. Adding to the dilemma is the fact that unlawful images are themselves contraband and cannot be released for public viewing. The pedantic written descriptions of the images and videos can never fully convey the abominations suffered by the victims.

Media and Luring/Enticement
Well intentioned media organizations in partnership with cybervigilante groups and sometimes with the cooperation of law enforcement have conducted undercover sting operations targeting Internet sexual predators. The sting operations do little to quell the onslaught of Internet predators and in some cases make the work of undercover officers more difficult. The cybervigilantes often make the offenders more wary as the predators later demand more proofs from UC officers, asking the officers to show that they are not with law enforcement or the media before completing the criminal act.

Law Enforcement

Uniformed crime reporting
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) service reports the number of officers per 1000 population in various regions of the US. Depending on the location, different areas of the US had between 1.8 and 5.5 officers per 1000 population. The DOJ does not gather statistics about the number of citizens who use the Internet and no information is reported in the UCR about the number of law enforcement officers engaged in battling offenders who use the Internet to victimize minors.

Spending for enforcement
The Internet crime problem craves increased resources for law enforcement services, training and equipment. Unfortunately, resources for law enforcement functions of any kind are sometimes scarce.

Offenders, the public and law enforcement
Crimes against children are particularly repugnant. Most people wish to mentally disassociate themselves from thoughts of dreadful abuse involving helpless children.

The true facts about the sexual victimization of minors is so psychologically distressing that few can emotionally tolerate being deeply involved in the investigations.

Community based policing for invisible victims
Traditional law enforcement approaches based on community oriented policing theories are not applicable in the area of Internet crimes against children.

Unlike spectacular crimes and incidents involving crashes, explosions, shootings and widespread newsworthy bloodletting, the evil offenses against children are committed in dark and private places by offenders who often psychologically control or humiliate their victims into silence. The crimes are mostly unreported. Statistics will not reveal the true story.

Federal and local law enforcement
Because of competing priorities, Internet crimes against children have received relatively little attention from federal law enforcement agencies. Since 2001, Federal efforts have focused appropriately, on terrorism and border protection. The continuing war on illegal drugs is also a proper federal priority.

Internet crimes are also relatively new phenomena. Crimes against children were only added to Federal law enforcement duties in the mid 1980s, and Internet crimes against children only began to rise in the late 1990s.

Local law enforcement resources at the state, county and city levels are drawn to homicides, sex assaults, gangs, drugs, burglaries, property crimes and other offenses of legitimate local importance. Consequently, those who fight Internet crimes against children are often overlooked under funded and understaffed.

Law enforcement investigators who are generalists and who must also carry caseloads involving other types of crimes are unable to conduct extensive undercover investigations involving Internet crimes against children. Consequently, few law enforcement agencies have staff who are devoted full time to proactive enforcement of Internet crimes against children.

Law enforcement educators
Some agencies find it easier to mount Internet safety education efforts than to mount law enforcement effort aimed at arresting criminals. Internet safety education should not be confused with law enforcement.

· Voluntary contributions from ISP’s customers
· Basic law enforcement training
· Permanent funding
· Legislation
· Tax on Internet Service Providers

Child victims of Internet sex crimes cannot summon assistance the way other victims can. They cannot adjust agency manpower, set policy or change regulations for their benefit. They cannot notify their local elected official. They cannot form a citizen-action group and they cannot vote. All they can do is suffer and hope. Hope that someone will pick up the cause and summon the sustained resolve to overcome legal, systemic, societal and psychological hurdles to help them.

No single entity can claim to be in command of the Internet. Cyberspace has no single location on which to plant a flag. The Internet is like a new planet and we are still the early inhabitants. Because the Internet is not made of brick and mortar, it is easy to abdicate or ignore responsibility for authority over cyberspace. It is easy to succumb to those who might argue against any restraint whatsoever over electronic communications. While the Web remains unmanageable, offenders have quickly planted their flags and taken full advantage of the global communities’ inability to control cyberspace.

Law enforcement institutions must advance to keep pace with developments in cyberspace. Administrators should consider the number of Internet users and subscribers in various regions and consider deploying proactive Internet crime investigators based on Internet saturation ratios. Such considerations would represent a step towards a new paradigm in policing. The paradigm begins by recognizing the rights of children to be safe from offenders who use cyberspace to gratify their sexual desires. Undercover proactive investigative techniques must be improved. Instead of avoiding technology, we must embrace it for the purposes of protecting minors.

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