Crimes Against Children/Online Predators

Silhouette of Man at Computer

Overview 

It’s unthinkable, but every year, thousands of children become victims of crimes—whether it’s through kidnappings, violent attacks, sexual abuse, or online predators. The mission of the Crimes Against Children (CAC) program is to:

  • Provide a rapid, proactive, and comprehensive ability to counter all threats of abuse and exploitation to children when those crimes fall under the authority of the FBI;
  • Identify, locate, and recover child victims; and
  • Strengthen relationships between the FBI and federal, state, local, tribal, and international law enforcement partners to identify, prioritize, investigate, and deter individuals and criminal networks exploiting children.

The Violent Crimes Against Children program works to decrease the vulnerability of children to sexual exploitation.Investigative Priorities

  • Child abductions—the mysterious disappearance of a minor, especially a minor of tender years (12 or younger).
  • Contact offenses against children—production of child pornography, sextortion, domestic travel to engage in sexual activity with children, and international travel to engage in sexual activity with children. 
  • Sexual exploitation of children—online networks and enterprises manufacturing, trading, distributing, and/or selling child pornography.
  • Trafficking of child pornography—distribution and/or possession of child pornography.
  • International parental kidnapping—wrongfully retaining a child outside the United States with the intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights.

Other crimes against children violations within the FBI’s jurisdiction are investigated in accordance with available resources

Investigations 

Child Abductions

In 1932, Congress gave the FBI jurisdiction under the “Lindbergh Law” to immediately investigate any reported mysterious disappearance or kidnapping involving a child of “tender age”—usually 12 or younger. There does not have to be a ransom demand nor does the child have to cross state lines or be missing for 24 hours before the FBI will become involved.

All reports of circumstances indicating that a minor has or possibly has been abducted are afforded an immediate preliminary inquiry. In this initial inquiry, we evaluate all evidence, circumstances, and information to determine if an investigation is warranted under federal law. If a case is warranted, we will immediately open an investigation in partnership with state and local authorities.

Child abductions by strangers are often complex and time is of the essence. FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) teams are deployed soon after an abduction has been reported to a local FBI field offices, to FBI Headquarters, or to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or in other cases when the FBI determines an investigation is warranted.

Child Sexual Exploitation Investigations 

Child sexual exploitation investigations—many of them undercover—are conducted in FBI field offices by Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces (CEHTTFs), 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 Crimes Against Children program, and many of our Legal Attaché offices have coordinated with appropriate foreign law enforcement partners on international investigations. Several 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, the FBI supports training for federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies involved in these investigations.

Child Sex Tourism

The FBI, in conjunction with domestic and international law enforcement partners, investigates U.S. citizens and permanent residents who travel overseas to engage in illegal sexual conduct with children under the age of 18. These crimes are exacerbated by the relative ease of international travel and the use of the Internet as a platform for individuals exchanging information about how and where to find child victims in foreign locations.

International Parental Kidnapping

The FBI investigates matters when a parent or other person takes or wrongfully retains a child outside of the United States with the intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights. Our field offices across the country serve as the primary points of contact for those seeking help. To request assistance or learn more about our services, please contact your local FBI office.

When a child is abducted by a parent and taken outside the United States, one criminal and one civil option may be pursued:

  • The International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA) of 1993: A criminal arrest warrant can be issued for a parent who takes a juvenile under 16 outside of the United States without the other custodial parent’s permission.
  • The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction: In nations that have signed the Hague Convention, there is a civil process that facilitates the return of abducted children under 16 to their home countries. 

The criminal process enables the arrest of the abducting parent but does not specifically order the return of the child, although the child is usually returned when the parent is apprehended. The civil process, on the other hand, facilitates the return of the child but does not pursue the arrest or return of the abductor. As a result, a criminal process would not be pursued if circumstances indicate it will jeopardize an active Hague Convention civil process.

Based on these considerations, we pursue criminal action in international parental kidnappings on a case-by-case basis. We take into account all the factors and guidance among the impacted state and federal law enforcement agencies, state and/or federal prosecutors, the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the left-behind parent.

It’s important to understand that the FBI has no investigative jurisdiction outside the United States, except on the high seas and other locations specifically granted by Congress. We work through our existing partnerships with international authorities through the U.S. Department of State, our Legal Attaché program, and Interpol.

If you are a left-behind parent, please see the Department of Justice’s International Parental Kidnapping webpage for more information.

More on the Hague Convention

To assist with the recovery of children abducted internationally, the United States implemented federal legislation under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act by signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 1988. The Hague Convention is an agreement among its signatories that states: A child under 16 years of age who is habitually resident in a country party to the Hague Convention, and who is removed to or retained in another country party to the Convention in breach of the left-behind parent’s custody rights, shall be promptly returned to the country of habitual residence.

Signatory countries of the treaty are obligated, with certain limited exceptions and conditions, to return an internationally abducted child under 16 to the country from which they habitually reside if an application to the Hague Convention is made within one year from the date of the wrongful abduction. The Hague Convention only applies to abductions between countries who have signed the treaty.

The U.S. Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues, has been designated as the Central Authority under the Hague Convention for the United States. Questions concerning the Hague Convention should be addressed to:

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Office of Children’s Issues
CA/OCS/CI
SA-17, 9th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20522-1709
Phone: (888) 407-4747; (202) 501-4444
Fax: (202) 736-9132
E-Mail: AskCI@state.gov
Web Address: travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en.html

For more information about our current parental abduction cases and to help us find these children, see Wanted by the FBI Parental Kidnapping.

Our authority in parental kidnapping cases stems from the Fugitive Felon Act. Although this statute most commonly applies to fugitives who flee interstate and/or internationally, Congress has specifically declared that the statute is also applicable in cases involving interstate or international parental kidnapping. Because many fugitives flee with their own children, the statute serves as an effective means for the FBI to help local and state law enforcement arrest these fugitives.

In order for the FBI to assist with an Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution arrest warrant, the following criteria must be met:

  • There must be probable cause to believe the abducting parent has fled interstate or internationally to avoid prosecution or confinement.
  • State authorities must have an outstanding warrant for the abductor’s arrest charging him/her with a felony under the laws of the state from which the fugitive flees.
  • State authorities must agree to extradite and prosecute that fugitive from anywhere in the United States if the subject is apprehended by the FBI.
  • The local prosecuting attorney or police agency should make a written request for FBI assistance.
  • The U.S. Attorney must authorize the filing of a complaint, and the federal arrest process must be outstanding before the investigation is instituted.

Initiatives 

Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Team

The first few hours after a child is abducted are critical. That is why we established CARD Teams in October 2005. CARD Teams are comprised of experienced personnel with a proven track record in crimes against children investigations, especially cases where a child has been abducted by someone other than a family member. Team members provide on-the-ground investigative, technical, and resource assistance to state and local law enforcement. The teams work closely with FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit representatives, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime coordinators, and child exploitation task force members.

In addition to their unique expertise, CARD Teams are capable of quickly establishing an on-site command post to centralize investigative efforts and operations. Other assets they bring to the table include a mapping tool to identify and locate registered sex offenders in the area, national and international lead coverage, and the Child Abduction Response Plan to guide investigative efforts.

Endangered Child Alert Program

In 2004, the FBI began its Endangered Child Alert Program (ECAP) as a proactive approach to identifying unknown individuals involved in the sexual abuse of children and the production of child pornography. A collaborative effort between the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, ECAP seeks national and international exposure of unknown adults (referred to as John/Jane Does).

View current ECAP images.

Partnership with National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)

FBI personnel assigned to the NCMEC review information that is provided to NCMEC’s CyberTipline. The tip line receives reports of child sexual exploitation incidents via an online form. The NCMEC also maintains a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST and through its website.

FBI employees assigned to the NCMEC work 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. Once a potential suspect has been identified, investigators compile information and forward it to the appropriate FBI field office for investigation.

Violent Crimes Against Children International Task Force

The Violent Crimes Against Children International Task Force (VCACITF) is a select cadre of international law enforcement experts working together to formulate and deliver a dynamic global response to online child exploitation through strategic partnerships, the aggressive engagement of relevant law enforcement, and the extensive use of liaison, operational support, and coordination. 

The VCACITF (formerly known as the Innocent Images International Task Force) became operational in 2004 and serves as the largest task force of its kind in the world, comprised of 68 online child sexual exploitation investigators from almost 46 countries. A five-week training session for newly invited task force officers brings them to the United States to work side-by-side with FBI agents in the Crimes Against Children program. The VCACITF also conducts an annual case coordination meeting where task force members come together in a central location to share best practices and coordinate transnational investigations between members.

FBI Child ID App 

When a child goes missing, every minute counts. That’s why we created the FBI Child ID App. The free app allows parents to store updated photos and physical description about their child and transmit that information to authorities if their child is ever missing. (The information is stored only on the user’s mobile device and is only transmitted if the user sends it.)

Protect Your Children  

Visit the About Protecting Your Kids webpage for details on protecting your kids from dangers and risks.

Most Wanted and Missing Persons 

Help us locate missing children and fugitives who are wanted for harming or kidnapping children.