This guide provides information to law enforcement officers regarding child predators who use the internet to exploit children and best practices for investigations involving computer evidence.
Key areas under examination in this guide are (1) understanding the behavior of child predators; (2) understanding how child predators use computers; (3) understanding how to investigate cases involving computers; and (4) understanding the legal consideration in the use of search warrants. The first section examines the behavior of child predators and illustrates how the behavior of child predators typically evolves in four stages: (1) awareness of sexual interest in children; (2) sexual fantasizing and stimulation; (3) stalking children; and (4) child molestation. Child predators use computers for collecting child pornography, communicating with other child predators, finding potential victims, and for soliciting children for sexual activity. The investigation of cases involving computer evidence is complex and often takes considerable resources. Guidelines are presented that offer advice on handling issues of jurisdiction, technical expertise and other human resources, and equipment. Once these issues have been dealt with, investigators must establish the context of the child sexual exploitation. Investigators are advised to obtain the most complete, detailed, and accurate information possible on the situation under examination. Investigators should establish that the suspect owns or has access to a computer and uses it for child sexual exploitation. The type and location of the computer should be established along with probable cause that the suspect used the computer for criminal activities. Basic questions to ask victims, witnesses, and suspects are offered followed by steps for obtaining a search warrant. Advice for handling and analyzing computer systems is presented, which recommend that investigators work closely with the prosecuting attorney and access experts for the computer forensics work. Finally, the many legal considerations for using search warrants to gather computer evidence are enumerated, from drafting the affidavit of probable cause to conducting a search without a warrant. Supplemental readings and relevant organizations are listed. Resources
Date Published: December 1, 2006