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Crimes Against Children Facilitated by the Internet

Crimes Against Children Facilitated by the Internet

Statement of Stephen R. Wiley, Chief Violent Crime and Major Offenders Section, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Washington, D.C., November 7, 1997

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the serious problem of crimes against children facilitated by the Internet.

Our children are our nation's most valued resource and they are the most vulnerable members of our society. There is no greater outrage in our society than when we hear of a child who has been mistreated, sexually abused, or murdered. It is paramount that, as a society, we protect our nation's children and keep them from becoming victims of crime.

Advances in computer and telecommunications technology have allowed our children to broaden their horizons, thus increasing their knowledge and cultural experiences. This technology, however, has also allowed our nation's children to become vulnerable to exploitation and harm by pedophiles and other sexual predators.

Commercial on-line services and the Internet provide the opportunity for pedophiles and other sexual predators to meet and converse with children. Our investigative efforts have shown that pedophiles often utilize "chat rooms" to contact children. These "chat rooms" offer users the advantage of instant communication throughout the United States and abroad, and they provide the pedophile an anonymous means of identifying and recruiting children into sexually illicit relationships. Through the use of "chat rooms", children can "chat" for hours with unknown individuals, often without the knowledge or approval of their parents. A child does not know if he/she is "chatting" with a 14 year old or a 40 year old. The FBI has investigated more than 70 cases involving pedophiles traveling interstate to meet undercover agents or officers posing as juveniles for the purpose of engaging in an illicit sexual relationship.

The advancement and availability of computer telecommunications also demands that all of us, public officials, law enforcement, parents, educators, commerce and industry leaders, be more vigilant and responsible by teaching our children how to avoid becoming victims of sexual predators. Parents must talk to their children about the potential dangers they may encounter through the Internet and on-line services. Several groups, to include the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), have issued guidelines for parents on safeguarding children who use computers linked to the information highway. I have attached a copy of those guidelines to this statement. I urge parents to review these guidelines and discuss them with their children. Schools that offer computer classes and access to the Internet should include appropriate discussion of this problem in their curriculum. Creating awareness of the problem is a first step toward reducing a child's vulnerability to sexual predators.

Blocking mechanisms for Internet access are available for parents to restrict access to sexually-oriented Internet and on-line bulletin boards, chat rooms and web sites. These mechanisms can help reduce, but will not totally eliminate, the vulnerability of children. It is possible that children, such as teenagers, may be able to circumvent the restrictions of the blocking mechanism or that pedophiles will still be able to meet children through what may at first appear to be innocent non interactive activity, such as responding to a newsgroup or web site posting.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies must continue to develop innovative investigative strategies for dealing with crimes committed in cyberspace and build strong legal precedent to support these investigations and prosecutions.

The FBI is attacking the proliferation of child pornography on the Internet and on-line services and the problem of pedophiles establishing sexually illicit relationships with minors through use of the Internet, through a comprehensive initiative focusing on crimes against children. This initiative encompasses several major crime problems including, the sexual exploitation of children; child abductions; child abuse on government and Indian reservations; and parental/family non custodial kidnappings. In May 1997, each of the FBI's 56 field offices designated two special agents as Crimes Against Children coordinators. These coordinators have been tasked with developing multi-agency teams of law enforcement, prosecutive and social service professionals capable of effectively investigating and prosecuting child victim crimes that cross legal and geographical jurisdictional boundaries and which enhance the interagency sharing of intelligence and information. The FBI has and will continue to aggressively address all crimes against children facilitated by the Internet.

One facet of the FBI's Crimes Against Children Program is the "Innocent Images" initiative which was initiated based upon information developed during a child abduction investigation.

In May 1993, the disappearance of ten-year-old George Stanley Burdynski, Jr., led Prince George's County, Maryland, police detectives and FBI agents to two suspects who had sexually exploited numerous juvenile males over a 25 year period. Investigation into the activities of these two suspects determined that adults were routinely utilizing computers to transmit images of minors showing frontal nudity or sexually explicit conduct, as well as to luring minors into illicit sexual activity. It was through this investigation that the FBI recognized that the utilization of computer telecommunications was rapidly becoming one of the most prevalent techniques by which pedophiles and other sexual predators shared sexually explicit photographic images of minors, and identified and recruited children for sexually illicit relationships. The illicit activities being investigated by the FBI are conducted by users of both commercial and private online services, as well as the Internet.

The FBI's national initiative on child pornography focuses on those who indicate a willingness to travel for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with a child; those who produce and/or distribute child pornography and those who post illegal images on the online services and the Internet. Through this initiative, FBI agents and task force officers go on-line, in an undercover capacity, to identify and investigate those individuals who are victimizing children through the Internet and on-line service providers. There are currently 55 field offices assisting and conducting investigations as a result of the "Innocent Images" initiative.

The "Innocent Images" national initiative is coordinated through the Baltimore Division of the FBI. This initiative provides for a coordinated FBI response to a nationwide problem by collating and analyzing information and images obtained from numerous sources to avoid duplication of effort by all FBI field offices.

The Baltimore Division's investigative operation involves the commitment and dedication of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, working together in a task force environment. The FBI believes that law enforcement agencies should work together, in a coordinated effort, to address crimes against children facilitated by the Internet. It is this sharing of manpower and resources that will ultimately provide the most effective tool in combating this crime problem.

Although the "Innocent Images" initiative is coordinated through the FBI field office at Baltimore, this operation has been franchised to include the Los Angeles field office. The Los Angeles Division also works in a task force environment and is a part of the Southern California Sexual Assault and Exploitation Felony Enforcement Team (The Safe Team).

The FBI has taken the necessary steps to ensure that the "Innocent Images" national initiative remains viable and productive. These efforts include the use of new technology and sophisticated investigative techniques and coordination of this national investigative effort with other federal agencies that have statutory investigative authority, including the United States Customs Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service; the Department of Justice's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (part of the Criminal Division); the NCMEC; and numerous commercial and independent on-line service providers.

The FBI also conducts an Outreach Program to inform the public and local law enforcement agencies about this national initiative. In the past two years, the FBI has addressed a number of civic, judicial, prosecutive and law enforcement organizations concerning this initiative and the assistance the FBI can provide in investigating crimes against children facilitated by the Internet. The FBI is currently in the process of assigning a Supervisory Special Agent, on a full-time basis, to the NCMEC. The FBI strongly believes that it must work closely with the NCMEC, a national resource center for child protection, to locate and recover missing children and raise the public awareness about ways to prevent child abduction, molestation and sexual exploitation. I believe that the assignment of this FBI agent will enhance coordination between the two organizations and benefit the nation in our fight to combat crimes against children.

As I mentioned earlier, the FBI has investigated more than 70 cases involving pedophiles traveling interstate to meet minors for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual relationships. In one case investigated by the FBI in Maryland and Florida, in conjunction with the Clearwater, Florida, Police Department, a subject was arrested in November 1995, after traveling from his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Tampa, Florida, for purposes of having sex with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl whom he had met through an on-line chat room. In reality, the "victim" in this case was an undercover FBI agent. This subject, who was married and the parent of three children, was convicted in federal court.

Another example of a traveler case involved a resident of Rockville, Maryland, who pled guilty to 2 counts of interstate travel to engage in sexual activity with a minor (Title 18, USC, Section 2423). Through investigation, this individual was found to have traveled from his Maryland home to the Springfield, Virginia, public library for the purpose of meeting a 12-year- old female in order to have sex. After this subject's arrest, a review of his Internet e-mail messages revealed that the subject had been posing as a 16 year old and had communicated with a number of other girls, between the ages of 10-15, attempting to meet them for sex.

Crimes against children are among the most emotional and demanding cases that investigators and prosecutors must face. The FBI will continue to work closely with other law enforcement agencies, NCMEC and the Department of Justice's CEOs to investigate, arrest and convict those individuals who prey upon our nation's children.

This concludes my prepared remarks.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).