Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Internet Predators and Their Prey

Target Multiple Victims

Book cover: Investigating Child Exploitation and Pornography
Book cover: Investigating Child
Exploitation and Pornography

Attorney Monique Ferraro and Forensic Examiner Eogahn Casey, in Investigating Child Exploitation and Pornography, discuss how the Internet has "irreversibly impacted every major human endeavor," including how predators operate. They specifically focus on the online exploitation of children. The Internet, they state, has created a trade in child pornography that stays several steps ahead of law enforcement and legislative efforts at regulation. It's even encouraged communication among child molesters who might otherwise have remained solitary wolves. They pass around ideas and describe new opportunities, as well as support each other in criminal activity.

Cyber offenders, says forensic psychiatrist Michael McGrath, generally target multiple victims, and they're looking for low self-esteem, family troubles, kids uncertain of their sexuality, and other issues common to adolescents. These predators will go where they are likely to encounter a large pool of kids. Sometimes they will pose as adults who offer kids a "mentoring" relationship; other times they act as kids the same age as their contactee. With the Internet, they can achieve a faster sense of intimacy than they can face to face, because they can use clever phrases to convince a kid they actually care. Officers who understand the various Internet tools these offenders use to "groom" potential victims (gain their trust and gradually seduce them) are better prepared for finding and stopping them.

Investigators and psychologists who specialize in Internet predation offer a series of red flags for parents to be aware of, such as

  • gifts sent to a child from someone the parents do not know
  • phone calls from unknown adults for the child;
  • a child who spends a lot of time online but doesn't say much about it
  • a child who tried to hide what he or she is doing online
  • a child who begins to behave different, especially more aggressively.

To ensure their child's safety, parents must set up clear rules about Internet use and remain firm, engage in regular periods of monitoring, keep open communication with children, and discuss Internet dangers. There will still be enticements for children determined to defy their parents or try something "dangerous," but other kids, when educated, may be deterred.

The fact is, sexual aggression is a persistent crime, and predators have found a viable avenue with the Internet for finding vulnerable children. Travelers are determined to satisfy their needs, but they will avoid children who clearly are protected and look for easier targets.

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