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Dangers Children Face Online

Dateline hidden camera investigation turns spotlight on Internet Predators

Chris Hansen
Dateline NBC
Updated: 11:19 a.m. ET Nov. 11, 2005

Instant messaging on the computer has become the phone for kids today. Children spend hours chatting online with their friends, and sometimes with strangers. A recent study found that one in five children online is approached by a sexual predator, a predator who may try to set up a face-to-face meeting. In a Dateline NBC Hidden Camera investigation, correspondent Chris Hansen caught some of these men in the act.

To follow the trail of an Internet predator prowling for children, from seduction in a chat room to a face-to-face meeting, Dateline rented a house, wired it with hidden cameras, and enlisted the help of an online vigilante group called “Perverted Justice.” Volunteers from the group posed as teens in chat rooms, saying they were home alone and interested in sex. Within hours there were men literally lining up at the door.

Dangers Children face Online In Iowa

Since August, 2005 – Black Hawk County Law Enforcement have arrested eight adult men for Enticement of a Minor

Investigator Robert Kramer
Cedar Falls Police Department

Sgt. Kent Smock
Black Hawk County Sheriff Office

In the Dateline NBC show, which aired in November, correspondent Chris Hansen was shown talking with a man whom Dateline had seen exiting a restaurant after he had gone there with the intent of meeting with a fourteen year old boy for the purpose of sex.  The man had just two days earlier shown at a house for the purpose of having a sexual encounter with yet a different young boy.  This house, rented by Dateline, was wired with audio and video, and many, many men showed over the period of a few days, thinking they were going to have sex with young teens, these meetings originating through online chat.  Hansen, realizing that the man he was seeing at the restaurant was the same man he had seen in a similar illegal circumstance just two days earlier, said to the man: “in 24 years of journalism, seldom have I been surprised.”

Having been a law enforcement officer for over 31 years, I too am seldom surprised.  I didn’t see the Dateline broadcast, but I have heard about it at the gym, at church, at social gatherings, and of course – at work.  As a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Sgt. Kent Smock and I have worked hand-in-hand on a number of investigations, which have resulted in eight arrests for Enticement of a Minor – a Class D Felony.  It didn’t take me long to be surprised, as two days after returning from an exhausting one-week training session, I was first solicited online.

Case Examples

Posing as an assumed 15 year old girl from Cedar Falls, I was solicited by a man from Waterloo on a Tuesday in early August.  I did just as I had learned in class; I let the suspect take the lead, recorded videos of him exposing himself online, exchanged e-mails for the purpose of obtaining necessary information for a trace, had a female officer talk to him on the phone, and finally – arranged a meet.

AGAIN – this was but my second day back to work after training.

suspect vehicle

Well, things don’t always go as planned in our line of work, and this investigation was no different.  On the day of the planned meet, I became extremely busy with a serious crime scene.  Having last talked with the suspect early that morning, and even though the time and location of the meet was discussed, I was unsure if he would “show.”  (I had told him that I would call him again around the noon hour, but was unable to place the call.) I finished the crime scene within minutes of the planned meeting time. I rushed across town, and just as I was entering the parking lot of the site, I saw the suspect vehicle leaving the area.  I was able to follow him for a period of time, and got close enough to see that he was in fact the same person who had “performed” for me online.  I opted to let him go.

On the following day, I was at the offices of the Black Hawk County Sheriff Department speaking with Deputy Sgt’s Kent Smock and Steve Petersen.  I told Smock that my assumed 15 year old identity had been approached online by a man, and I then told Smock the “screen name” of the suspect.  The look on my face must have been a sight to see, as Smock told me that a man using the same screen name had “hit” on him during training the week prior in Des Moines.  Not only was I a bit surprised, but I was now on a mission.  Within days, the man again solicited my assumed identity online, a second meet was set, and he was arrested.  Sgt. Smock talked with an Assistant Black Hawk County Attorney about the suspect which I had arrested, and mentioned that the same man had also solicited his assumed identity.  The suspect was arrested for an additional charge of Enticement of a Minor, and remained in the county jail for a long time, due to the high bail which was set.

 

What really concerns me is that, quite often I will enter an online chat room and within seconds, have a number of predators.  It truly doesn’t take long.  There have been many, many occasions when investigators have been asked in online chats such things as:

  • Do you do oral?
  • Are you a virgin?
  • Do you shave?
  • Will you consider a threesome?
  • Would you feel safer if we go (travel) to my house?
  • Have you ever watched a man play with himself online?

Keep in mind, these are questions that the predator is posing to assumed minors.  In another case, investigated by Sgt. Smock, Black Hawk County Deputies arrested an Oklahoma man for driving some six hundred and fifty miles to Iowa to meet with his 14 year-old victim.

The Assumed Minor v. a Reactive Investigation

The word “assumed” has been used a number of times in this discussion.  True, many of the investigations conducted by ICAC Members are proactive, in that we make ourselves available in online chat rooms, and if given the opportunity, will develop a relationship with a predator.  But what about those times in which the predator has solicited a minor in your city or jurisdiction, and Mom or Dad intercepts e-mails or messages between the minor and their “internet friend?”  If you haven’t investigated a case such as this, be prepared, as within time, you will.  The Cedar Falls Police is investigating a reactive case as of this writing, and it’s truly a sensitive issue to work with a family who has had a minor sexually victimized online.

Entrapment

It’s not long after a discussion on the topic of child online enticement begins that an investigator is asked about the issue of entrapment.  Well, lets look at that very issue.  By strict definition, entrapment is considered by the courts when a law enforcement officer or agent places a degree of pressure or coercion on a suspect to commit an offense – to a point that said pressure is seen as “luring” the suspect to commit.  Trust me, there is no need to lure these individuals.

Traits of the Offender

Suspects often take a great deal of time in their development of a relationship with the assumed victim.  Still others are quick to jump at the thought of meeting with their victims.  One recent defendant was very eager and excited at the thought of meeting his prey.  In less than 24 hours from first making contact with his online victim, he traveled over 90 miles to meet his date for the evening.  Others travel distances ranging from across town to many, many miles for their interludes. The personalities and professions of the suspects vary greatly.  From blue collar young man to the white collar executive; from the disabled old man to the able bodied construction worker; from married men with families to single men with girlfriends to the divorced, lonely men.  There is essentially no mold as to who these individuals are, other than they possess only commonality, the desire of having sex with a minor.

Finally, a Southwest Iowa man had his bond revoked recently, which had been imposed on him regarding a Nebraska arrest for enticement.  This man had been enticing an assumed 14 year old girl from Cedar Falls for several weeks.  He had planned a trip for her to his hometown, purchased bus tickets for her, and was making hotel reservations for a weekend.  In cooperation with Nebraska authorities, the man’s bond was revoked on a charge which he had been arrested for in August, ’05.  Only after conversing with Nebraska authorities, did Cedar Falls Police learn that the same man had been arrested in Kansas two years earlier for yet another incident involving child enticement.  As you can see, a defense argument of entrapment would not be an issue in this particular investigation.  Quite simply, entrapment is not in the equation.

The Child Predator is a Preferential Sexual Abuser

These people need to be stopped, or at best, made aware that law enforcement is watching.  The child predator is a preferential sexual abuser.  He / she prefers children for sexual partners.  A typical (if there is one) sexual abuser is a situational abuser.  He / she is in a situation, whether it be a date-rape, unknown victim, or alcohol – induced stupor, and the situation presents the opportunity for sexual assault.  Arguments are made in many circles that these preferential abusers are far more dangerous, as they prey on defenseless and influential children.

Iowa Law and Enticement

Online enticement, the use of the Internet to entice, invite, or persuade a child to meet for sexual acts or to help arrange such a meeting, is a serious offense.  In Iowa, section 710.10 deals with Enticing Away a Minor.  The section (in part) reads as follows:

710.10

1.    A person commits a class C felony when, without authority and with the intent to commit sexual abuse or sexual exploitation upon a minor under the age of thirteen, the person entices away the minor under the age of thirteen, or entices away a person reasonably believed to be under the age of thirteen.
2.    A person commits a class D felony when, without authority and with the intent to commit an illegal act upon a minor under the age of sixteen, the person entices away the minor under the age of sixteen, or entices away a person reasonably believed to be under the age of sixteen.

The section goes on with sub-sections dealing with attempting to entice, inferred intentions of the offender, and jurisdiction issues.  Our section on enticement is worded well, but my experience in dealing with cases such as those outlined herein tell me that penalties for the offense(s) may be a bit light, and that bail is often set too low.  Related to that, is that soon after making an arrest, Investigators often find themselves scrambling for more information on the suspect, his/her residence, forensic computer analysis, and cell phone records.  This often has to be done promptly, as immediately after release from custody, the defendant will begin to destroy evidence not discovered by the Investigator and cover his/her tracks.

Bail amounts on arrests I’ve been associated with have ranged from ten thousand to seventy-five thousand dollars.  With many of the defendants being released on the “ten percent rule” it is easy to see that law enforcement has to move quickly to gather information.  With that in mind, it’s often preferred that the Investigator is as prepared as possible before taking down the suspect.

Preparation

There are many, many preparation steps to take in these investigations, including:

  • Making a record of each and every chat
  • Obtaining accurate identity of the suspect
  • Trace of online chats with software
  • Trace of phone numbers given by the suspect.  Note: they will almost always want to talk to you prior to the meet
  • Matching online DL photo with their captured image while they perform online (the suspects will almost always perform online.)
  • Arrest and employment history
  • Surveillance of residence
  • Available vehicle/s

Much of this information is available to the Investigator only through legal paperwork; ie: warrants and / or subpoenas.  The Investigator would be well advised to have as much of this information in hand as possible prior to taking down the suspect, as things tend to move very quickly after the arrest.  Those of you how have worked cases such as these, or such cases as fraud and identity theft, know that obtaining information from an Internet Service Provider can take days or weeks.  Again, it cannot be stressed enough that you will have to move quickly in these cases, in order to secure and document all evidence possible.

scene Conclusion The Iowa Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is a group of dedicated professionals who are committed to the safety of our children.  These men and women are relentless in their pursuit of the child predator.  Statistics will prove that more and more children are online than ever before, and the number is increasing daily.  Law enforcement in Iowa understands that it will be difficult to keep up with the tremendous numbers of predators out there.  With the proactive stand taken by ICAC Task Force Members, predators in and around Iowa understand that law enforcement is watching their every move, and there is a very good chance that if they solicit minors in Iowa, they will be arrested.

If you would like more information on what your agency can do to combat the enticement of minors online and related issues, visit: the National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids website at: http://www.missingkids.com.  You can get even ore information on the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at:
http://www.icactraining.org.  Online access to upcoming training and educational resources are available through this site.