Lt. Shane Bates
Kentucky State Police
Electronic Crime Branch
Office (502) 782-9769
Kentucky ICAC Task Force Works To Protect Children Online
Date of News Release: 04/30/2012
(Frankfort, KY.) – As technology grows, so does the opportunity for child pornographers to exploit it. Social networking sites, chat rooms, file-sharing programs, message boards and forums now make it easier for offenders to connect with children and record and trade child pornography. While computers and cell phones remain the primary means of communication, gaming systems that can connect to the Internet give predators yet another way to gain access to children electronically.
To counter this growing trend, dozens of local, state and federal law enforcement and investigative agencies throughout the commonwealth are working together as part of the Kentucky Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. Administered by the Kentucky State Police Electronic Crime Branch (ECB), the group is one of 61 coordinated task forces nationwide which work to combat the problem of child sexual exploitation cases in which technology plays a key role.
According to Lt. Shane Bates, commander of the KSP ECB, as the number of digital devices with picture capabilities dramatically increases, it is now far easier for an offender to capture the abuse of a child in pictures and videos. Images can now be relived by the offender over and over at will for their own sexual gratification. The images can also be easily traded all over the world, in effect reoffending the victim each time they are traded, possibly over a period of years. Victims continue to be traumatized knowing that those images are still out there, somewhere, being traded from person to person possibly forever.
"The Internet is great in that you can find an answer for just about any question you may have. One of the unfortunate side effects is that once something is 'on the net,' it is nearly impossible to completely remove it," says Bates.
Much like other areas of law enforcement, ICAC Task Force officers spend a lot of time reacting to Internet complaints received from the public. Beyond that, many of the investigators dedicate countless hours patrolling the web for suspicious activity. The goal is to locate and arrest offenders before they have the opportunity to harm a child.
Many leads are received from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline, a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week means of reporting incidents of child sexual exploitation.
"CyberTips for Kentucky have increased dramatically," says Sgt. Mike Bowling assistant commander of the KSP ECB. "Last year, we averaged maybe 60 to 70 tips a month. Now it's not uncommon for us to have more than 100 complaints each month."
Last year, Kentucky's ICAC Task Force investigated 699 documented complaints. Fifty-nine percent of those were proactive cases, or cases in which officers were actively seeking suspects in the process of committing a crime, hopefully before a child was victimized. Forty-one percent were reactive, or complaints in which the police responded after an alleged crime had occurred. These investigations include online enticement, obscenity directed toward minors, child prostitution, along with the possession, distribution and manufacture of child pornography. Of the documented complaints, 57 have already led to arrest, and several others are pending.
The KSP ECB operates a digital forensic lab that processes requests for digital evidence for agencies throughout the state. As digital evidence is becoming increasingly prevalent in police work, some agencies are training their own staff to handle this type of evidence. Absent that local resource, agencies can submit digital evidence for examination to KSP or the Kentucky Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory in Louisville.
Digital evidence comes in a wide variety of types and sizes. Complexity and capacity determine the amount of time required to process evidence.
"What has changed the most over the years is the shear size of the media we deal with," says Det. Chris Frazier, a forensic examiner with the KSP ECB. "When I started working at the branch, a 50-gigabyte hard drive was huge. Now it's not unusual to find one terabyte drives during exam requests. Another significant change involves the rapid advancement in cell phone technology. Cell phones are becoming more and more like mini computers."
In 2011, the lab examined roughly 29 terabytes of data. To put that into perspective, just one megabyte of data is about 1,000 sheets of paper with each page completely filled front and back. If information from the 29 terabytes examined last year alone were printed front and back, it would produce a stack more than 900 miles high.
There are several misconceptions about child pornography. Some believe child pornography refers to photographs or videos of babies in the bathtub. Others think of teenagers in pigtails and schoolgirl uniforms. The child pornography faced by ICAC Task Force officers is far darker and more grotesque than many could imagine. It involves pictures and videos of young children, often in diapers, being violently molested.
During a National Juvenile Online Victimization Study in 2005, it was discovered that more than 80 percent of the people arrested for child pornography had saved images of prepubescent children and 80 percent had images of minors being sexually penetrated. As far as age, 83 percent had images of children between the ages of six and 12 years.
A decade ago, parents worried about the chat rooms their children visited on a desktop computer. Today, it's much easier to contact children now that everyone can have the Internet in their pocket.
Most parents have become more aware of the basics, such as keeping the computer in the family room, but more needs to be done. One goal of the task force is to promote community awareness and prevent victimization. Last year alone, Kentucky's task force conducted 85 presentations in schools and at community groups – reaching nearly 6,000 people.
"Technology is both a blessing and curse," says Bates. "It makes our daily lives easier. However, it can also leave our children exposed to predators. We must teach our children to use technology wisely and be aware of the dangers lurking on the Internet."
Sidebar: Tips For Keeping Kids Safe Online
Browsing the Internet
- Keep the computer in a high-traffic area of your home.
- Establish limits for which online sites children may visit and for how long.
- Remember that Internet technology can be mobile, and make sure to monitor cell phones, gaming devices, and laptops.
- Surf the Internet with your children and let them show you what they like to do online.
- Know who is connecting with your children online and set rules for social networking, instant messaging, e-mailing, online gaming, and using webcams.
- Continually talk with your children about online safety.
- Choose an Internet browser with safety options appropriate for your family. There are browsers that are specifically designed for kids, as well as browsers that offer safer and age-appropriate filtering options. Many electronic service providers (ESPs) offer free filters to help prevent kids from accessing inappropriate websites. Contact your ESP to learn what Internet-safety options are available.
- Teach your kids that if they see any material which makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused to immediately tell you or another trusted adult. A trusted adult is a person you have come to rely on and with whom you and your kids feel comfortable.
- Help your kids find information online. By searching the Internet together you can help them find reliable sources of information and distinguish fact from fiction.
Cell Phones/Wireless Devices and Texting
- Review cell phone records for any unknown numbers and late night phone calls and texts.
- Remind your child that texting is viral—anything sent in a text can be easily forwarded and shared.
- Teach your child never to reveal cell phone numbers or passwords online.
- Talk to your child about the possible consequences of sending sexually explicit or provocative images or text messages.
- When shopping for a cell phone for your child, research the security settings that are available.
- Instruct your kids to use privacy settings to restrict access to profiles so only the individuals on their contact lists are able to view their profiles.
- Remind kids to only add people they know in real life to their contact lists.
- Encourage kids to choose appropriate screen names or nicknames. Talk to your kids about creating strong passwords, such as those that use the first letter of each word of a phrase or an easy-to-remember acronym.
- Visit social-networking websites with your kids, and exchange ideas about OK versus potentially risky websites.
- Ask your kids about the people they are communicating with online.
- Make it a rule with your kids that they can never give out personal information or meet anyone in person without your prior knowledge and consent.
- Encourage your kids to think "Is this message harmful, dangerous, hurtful, or rude?" before posting or sending anything online. Teach your kids not to respond to any rude or harassing remarks or messages that make them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused and to show you these messages instead.
- Check your child's friend lists to see who has access to his or her profile. Make sure your child knows all friends in person.
- Teach your child to set profiles to private–but be aware that privacy settings do not guarantee complete privacy.
- Have your child remove any inappropriate content and photos and delete any personal information.
- Check the profiles of your child's friends to see if there is revealing information or photos about your child.
- Report inappropriate or criminal behavior to the appropriate authority. Most sites have a reporting mechanism for non-criminal behavior. Criminal behavior should be reported through law-enforcement agencies and the CyberTipline® at www.cybertipline.com.