Overview and History
Overview and History of the Violent Crimes Against Children Program
The mission of the Violent Crimes Against Children (VCAC) program is to provide a rapid, proactive, and comprehensive capacity to counter all threats of abuse and exploitation of children when those crimes fall under the jurisdiction and authority of the FBI; to identify and rescue child victims; to reduce the vulnerability of children to in-person and online sexual exploitation and abuse; to reduce the negative impact of domestic and international parental rights disputes; and to strengthen the capabilities of the FBI and federal, state, local, tribal, and international partners through training, intelligence sharing, technical support, and investigative assistance.
VCAC Investigative Priorities
- Child abductions: Non-ransom child abductions; domestic parental kidnapping
- Child sexual exploitation enterprises: Domestic child prostitution; online networks and enterprises
- Contact offenses against children: Domestic travel with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity with children; child sex tourism (international travel to engage in sexual activity with children); production of child pornography; coercion/enticement of a minor
- Trafficking of child pornography: Mass distribution of child pornography; possession of child pornography
- International parental kidnapping
- Other crimes against children: All other crimes against children violations within the FBI’s jurisdiction are investigated in accordance with available resources
The History of the Program
While investigating the disappearance of a juvenile in May 1993, FBI special agents from the Baltimore Field Office and detectives from the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Police Department identified two suspects who had sexually exploited numerous juveniles over a 25-year period. Investigation into these activities determined that adults were routinely using computers to transmit sexually explicit images to minors and, in some instances, to lure minors into engaging in illicit sexual activity. Further investigation and discussions with experts, both within the FBI and in the private sector, revealed that the use of computer telecommunications was rapidly becoming one of the most prevalent techniques by which some sex offenders shared pornographic images of minors and identified and recruited children into sexually illicit relationships. In 1995, based on information developed during this investigation, the Innocent Images National Initiative—initially part of our Cyber Division—was created to address the illicit activities conducted by users of commercial and private online services and the Internet.
In 2000, the Crimes Against Children program was formed by our Violent Crimes Section—part of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. It was under this umbrella that programs such as the Innocence Lost National Initiative and Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Teams were implemented to provide additional resources and response tools to combat the ever-present problems of child prostitution, child abduction, and child sex tourism.
In October 2012, the Crimes Against Children program and the Innocent Images National Initiative merged to form the Violent Crimes Against Children program in the Criminal Investigative Division. The program continues the efforts of both former iterations, providing centralized coordination and analysis of case information that is national and international in scope, requiring close cooperation not only among FBI field offices and legal attachés but also with state, local, and international governments.
Violent Crimes Against Children International Task Force
The Violent Crimes Against Children International Task Force (VCACITF) formerly known as the Innocent Images International Task Force, became operational on October 6, 2004 and serves as the largest task force of its kind in the world. The VCACITF consists of online child sexual exploitation investigators from around the world, including more than 100 task force officers from more than 40 different countries. This task force allows for the real-time transfer of information between the FBI and our foreign counterparts and successfully brings together law enforcement entities from around the world to address the global crime problem of online child exploitation.
Child Sex Tourism
Child sex tourism (CST) is defined as travel abroad to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of a child under the age of 18. Some CST offenders, usually novices to the commercial sex trade, plan their travel through U.S.-based tour companies or tour operators, whereas other offenders plan their travel independently. Information on procuring children in foreign destinations is readily available in pedophile newsgroups and forums on the Internet. In certain countries where there is a thriving commercial sex industry, such information can be obtained through taxi drivers, hotel concierges, newspaper advertisements, etc. Studies show Southeast Asian countries—particularly Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand—are the most common destinations for child sex tourism. Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, and Brazil are also emerging destinations for CST. An estimated 25 percent of child sex tourists in the above Southeast Asian countries are U.S. citizens, whereas an estimated 80 percent of CST offenders in Latin American countries are U.S. citizens.
The FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division—of which the VCAC program is a part—in conjunction with the International Operations Division, has implemented joint operations overseas with governments in some of the top CST destination countries in Southeast Asia. Based on the success of these operations, the CST initiative has expanded into selected countries in Latin America. These operations target child sex tourists who do not plan their illegal activities from the U.S., but rather seek to procure children once they arrive at their destination. The purpose of these operations are to coordinate with foreign law enforcement to gather evidence against U.S. offenders that is admissible in U.S. courts, with the goal of extraditing those offenders back to the U.S. for prosecution. The VCAC program coordinates all efforts with FBI legal attachés in these countries to provide training, equipment, and logistical support to these joint operations.
Child sexual exploitation investigations—many of them undercover—are conducted in FBI field offices by Child Exploitation Task Forces (CETFs), which combine the resources of the FBI with those of other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Each of the FBI’s 56 field offices has worked investigations developed by the VCAC program, and several of our legal attaché offices have coordinated with appropriate foreign law enforcement partners on international investigations Many of these investigations are also worked in coordination with Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces, which are funded by the Department of Justice. Furthermore, training is provided to all law enforcement involved in these investigations, including federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencie
During the early stages of the program, a substantial amount of time was spent conducting investigations on commercial online service providers that provided numerous easily accessible “chat rooms” where teenagers and pre-teens could meet and converse with one another. Today, not only chat rooms but other social networking and online media forums offer the advantage of immediate communication around the world, providing pedophiles with an anonymous means of identifying and recruiting child victims into sexually illicit relationships.
As the years have passed, the program has expanded its scope to include investigations involving all areas of the Internet and online services, including:
- Internet websites that post child pornography;
- Internet news groups;
- Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels;
- Online groups and organizations (eGroups);
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing programs;
- Bulletin board systems (BBSs) and other online forums; and
- Social networking venues.
FBI agents and task force officers go online into predicated locations using fictitious screen names and engaging in real-time chat or e-mail conversations with subjects in order to obtain evidence of criminal activity. Investigation of specific online locations can be initiated through:
- A citizen complaint;
- A complaint by an online service provider;
- A referral from a law enforcement agency; or
- Uncovering the name of the online location (i.e., a chat room) that suggests illicit activity.
The FBI exercises jurisdiction and investigative responsibilities pursuant to federal statutes pertaining to various violent crimes against children found in the Federal Criminal Code and Rules under Title 18 of the United States Code. See list of statutes.
The FBI has taken the necessary steps to ensure that the VCAC program remains viable and productive through the use of new technology and sophisticated investigative techniques, through coordination of the national investigative strategy, and through a national liaison initiative with a significant number of commercial and independent online service providers. To date, the program has been highly successful and has proven to be a logical, efficient, and effective method to identify and investigate individuals who are using the Internet for the purpose of sexually exploiting children.
To date, there have been five VCAC program subjects placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list:
- Eric Franklin Rosser (Placed on list 2000; captured in 2001)
- Michael Scott Bliss (Placed on list 2002; captured in 2002)
- Richard Steve Goldberg (Placed on list 2002; captured in 2007)
- Jon Savarino Schillaci (Placed on list 2007; captured in 2008)
- Eric Justin Toth (Placed on list 2012; captured in 2013)
For more information, visit our VCAC Fugitives on Top Ten List webpage.
The Growth of the Program
Over the last several years, the FBI, state and local law enforcement, and the public have developed an increased awareness of the child pornography/child sexual exploitation crime problem. More online incidents of these crimes are being identified for investigation than ever before. Between fiscal years 1996 and 2007, the number of cases opened throughout the FBI catapulted from 113 to 2,443. From 2007 to the present, the numbers have steadily continued to rise. In December 2013, the FBI had approximately 7,759 pending child pornography/child sexual exploitation investigations under this program. As the power and popularity of the Internet continue to expand, the number these cases opened—as well as the resources needed to address the problem—will likely continue to grow.
Between 2001 and 2013, the Violent Crimes Against Children program has recorded the following statistical accomplishments:
- Approximate number of informations and indictments: more than 16,152
- Approximate number of arrests: more than 23,953
- Approximate number of convictions: more than 16,962
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) operates a CyberTipline at www.cybertipline.com that allows parents and children to report child pornography and other incidents of sexual exploitation of children by submitting an online form. The NCMEC also maintains a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST, and a website at www.missingkids.com.
Complaints received by the NCMEC that indicate a violation of federal law are referred to the FBI for appropriate action. An FBI supervisory special agent and several analysts are assigned full-time at the NCMEC to assist with these complaints. The analysts review and analyze information received by the NCMEC’s CyberTipline. The analysts conduct research and analysis in order to identify individuals suspected of any of the following: possession, manufacture and/or distribution of child pornography; online enticement of children for sexual acts; child sexual tourism; and/or other sexual exploitation of children. The analysts utilize various Internet tools and administrative subpoenas in their efforts to identify individuals who prey on children. Once a potential suspect has been identified, they compile an investigative packet that includes the applicable CyberTipline reports, subpoena results, public records search results, the illegal images associated with the suspect, and a myriad of other information that is forwarded to the appropriate FBI field office for investigation. Both the NCMEC and the FBI are devoted to ensuring the safety of America’s most precious gift…our children.