Violent Crimes Against Children/Online Predators
It’s nearly unthinkable, but every year thousands of children become victims of crime—whether it’s through kidnappings, violent attacks, sexual abuse, or online predators.
The mission of the FBI's Violent Crimes Against Children program is threefold: first, to decrease the vulnerability of children to sexual exploitation; second, to develop a nationwide capacity to provide a rapid, effective, and measured investigative response to crimes against children; and third, to enhance the capabilities of state and local law enforcement investigators through programs, investigative assistance, and task force operations.
Our strategy involves using multi-disciplinary and multi-agency teams to investigate and prosecute crimes that cross legal, geographical, and jurisdictional boundaries; promoting and enhancing interagency sharing of intelligence, specialized skills, and services; and widely offering our victim/witness services. All for the express purpose of protecting our nation’s greatest asset—our children.
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.
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.
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 agencies.
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.
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)
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 crimes against children through the establishment and furtherance of strategic partnerships, the aggressive engagement of relevant law enforcement, and the extensive use of liaison, operational support, and coordination.
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.
National Center for Missing & 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.
Operation Rescue Me
On June 24, 2008, the FBI—in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children—began Operation Rescue Me, an aggressive program that uses image analysis to determine the identity of child victims depicted in child sexual exploitation material.
Focusing on items seen in the backgrounds of child pornography images and videos, analysts attempt to answer four basic questions in an effort to identify and subsequently rescue victimized children:
- What useful clues are there in the background? (e.g., What’s visible on the walls? Are there distinct clothes or commercial labels visible?)
- Can a time frame for when the pictures/videos were taken be determined?
- What is the physical location of the children in the photos/videos (e.g., country, state, hotel room, etc.)?
- Who are the children in the photos/videos?
Candidate images/videos for Operation Rescue Me arise from new child pornography series discovered by FBI field investigations, from forensic exams, or from nominations by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Endangered Child Alert Program
On February 21, 2004, the FBI began its Endangered Child Alert Program (ECAP) as a new 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 & Exploited Children, ECAP seeks national and international exposure of unknown adults (referred to as John/Jane Does) whose faces and/or distinguishing characteristics are visible in child pornography images. These faces and/or distinguishing marks (i.e. scars, moles, tattoos, etc.) are displayed on the Seeking Information section of the FBI website as well as various other media outlets in hopes that someone from the public can identify them.
As a result of ECAP, the faces of many Jane/John Does have been broadcast on television shows such as America’s Most Wanted: America Fights Back, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and The O’Reilly Factor.
To help locate current suspects, see the Endangered Child Alert Program Most Wanted webpage.
Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Teams
It is the mission of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children program to provide a quick and effective response to all incidents of crimes against children. The first few hours after a child is abducted are critical, and that is why we established Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Teams in October 2005.
CARD Teams are comprised of experienced personnel with a proven track record in violent 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 nationwide CARD Team consists of more than 60 members, with five teams serving each region of the country. 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 new 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.
CARD Teams are primarily involved in non-family child abductions, ransom child abductions, and mysterious disappearances of children. They work with state and local law enforcement to protect and save the lives of innocent children.
Family Child Abductions
It happens: A parent kidnapping his or her own child and fleeing for parts unknown, often overseas. It’s our job to help find these abducted kids. Our field offices across the country serve as the primary points of contact for those seeking our help. To request our assistance or learn more about our services, please contact a member of the Child Exploitation Task Force at your local FBI office.
How is a missing child defined? By law (specifically the 1982 Missing Children’s Act), it’s any person younger than 18 whose whereabouts are unknown to his or her legal custodian. Under the act, the circumstances surrounding the disappearance must indicate that the child was removed from the control of his or her legal custodian without the custodian’s consent, or the circumstances of the case must strongly indicate that the child is likely to have been abused or sexually exploited.
Two federal criminal investigative options and one non-criminal or civil method may be pursued when a child is abducted by a parent and taken over state lines or outside the U.S.
- 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 U.S. without the other custodial parent’s permission.
- Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP)—Parental Kidnapping: When criminal charges are filed by a state that requests our help, a criminal arrest warrant can be issued for an abducting parent who flees across state lines or internationally. See below for more details.
- 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. See below for more details.
The criminal processes enable the arrest of the abducting parent but do 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 in no way seeks 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 U.S., 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.
The U.S. Department of State receives approximately 1,200 new Hague and non-Hague cases annually. If you are a left-behind parent, please see the Department of Justice’s International Parental Kidnapping webpage for more information.
More Details on the Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution—Parental Kidnapping Process
Our authority in parental kidnapping cases stems from the Fugitive Felon Act as part of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1073–UFAP. 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 a UFAP 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 U.S. 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.
More Details on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
To assist with the recovery of children abducted internationally, the U.S. 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.
Each signatory country has designated a Central Authority to carry out specialized duties under the Convention. 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
SA-17, 9th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20522-1709
Phone: (888) 407-4747; (202) 501-4444
Fax: (202) 736-9132
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, visit our Wanted by the FBI Parental Kidnapping page.
Non-Family Child Abductions
It’s a fearsome thought: a child snatched by a stranger. Who investigates these crimes? We do. It’s our job to handle cases of child abductions, often working closely with state and local law enforcement.
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. And just to be clear, before we get involved, there does not have to be a ransom demand and the child does not have to cross state lines or be missing for 24 hours.
Child abductions by strangers are often complex and high-profile cases. And time is of the essence. FBI CARD teams are deployed soon after an abduction has been reported to a local FBI field office, to FBI Headquarters, or to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, or in other cases when the FBI determines an investigation is warranted.
Child Abductions—No Ransom
Our field offices respond to cases involving the mysterious disappearance of a child whenever and however they come to our attention. 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. (For instance, it is a federal violation for a person to travel between states to engage in any sexual act with a person under 18.) If a case is warranted, we will immediately open an investigation in partnership with state and local authorities.
National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC)
Our National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), part of our Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) near Quantico, Virginia, provides free assistance—in the form of investigative/operational support, research, and training—to federal, state, local, and international law enforcement agencies.
In particular, the NCAVC has a rapid response element that:
- Applies the most current expertise available in matters involving missing and exploited children;
- Provides immediate operational assistance to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies involved in violent crime investigations; and
- Provides onsite investigative support through technical and forensic resource coordination.
Upon being notified that a child has been abducted, our field offices and the NCAVC coordinate an immediate response to the abduction situation. The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 states that law enforcement agencies may not observe a waiting period before accepting a missing child report and that each missing child that is reported to law enforcement must be entered immediately into the state law enforcement system and National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
Our special agents join local law enforcement in coordinating and conducting comprehensive investigations. Our Evidence Response Team personnel may conduct the forensic investigation of the abduction site, while a Rapid Start Team may immediately be deployed to coordinate and track investigative leads, which often number in the thousands.
Members of NCAVC also teach and give presentations at training courses for Child Exploitation Task Force members. In addition, more than 150 FBI agents nationwide are designated as NCAVC coordinators and provide a necessary and effective link between the NCAVC, our local field offices, and local law enforcement.
The Morgan P. Hardiman Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resources Center (CASMIRC) was also established through legislation in 1998 under the NCAVC. According to the legislation, CASMIRC is “to provide investigative support through the coordination and provision of federal law enforcement resources, training, and application of other multidisciplinary expertise to assist federal, state, and local authorities in matters involving child abductions, mysterious disappearances of children, child homicide, and serial murder across the country.”
Innocence Lost National Initiative
In June 2003, the FBI, in conjunction with the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, launched the Innocence Lost National Initiative (ILNI). This combined effort was aimed at addressing the growing problem of domestic sex trafficking of children in the United States.
In the years since its inception, the ILNI has expanded to 74 dedicated Child Exploitation Task Forces composed of more than 400 law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. These task forces work in tandem with U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the FBI’s Office for Victim Assistance.
To date, these groups have worked successfully to rescue more than 6,000 children. Investigations have successfully led to approximately 2,000 indictments and 30 life sentences.
ILNI Statistics (effective September 30, 2016):
- Founded: June 2003
- Children Recovered: More Than 6,000
- Child Exploitation Task Forces: 74
- Convictions: More Than 2,500
To Report a Sighting:
- Call 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678)
- Use the CyberTipline
- 2016: More than 80 Juveniles Recovered in Operation Cross Country X
- 2015: 149 Sexually Exploited Children Recovered in Operation Cross Country IX
- 2014: 168 Trafficking Victims Recovered in Operation Cross Country VIII
- 2013: 105 Sexually Exploited Children Recovered in Operation Cross Country VII
- 2012: Nearly 80 Juveniles Recovered in Operation Cross Country VI
- 2010: Sixty-Nine Children Rescued During Operation Cross Country V
- 2009: More Than 50 Children Rescued During Operation Cross Country IV
- 2009: 48 Children Recovered in Operation Cross Country III
- 2008: 47 Children Rescued in Operation Cross Country II
- 2008: 389 Arrested in Operation Cross Country
- 2005: National Crackdown IDs 30 Child Victims
We exercise jurisdiction and investigative responsibilities pursuant to the following federal statutes pertaining to various violent crimes against children.
1) Follow the links for summaries from the Federal Criminal Code and Rules under Title 18 of the United States Code. Federal law defines a “minor” as a child under the age of 18 unless specified otherwise. (Note: All links below are PDFs.)
- Section 1073. Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) or Giving Testimony
- Section 1201. Kidnapping
- Section 1204. International Parental Kidnapping
- Section 1462. Importation or Transportation of Obscene Matters
- Section 1465. Transportation of Obscene Matters for Sale or Distribution
- Section 1466. Engaging in the Business of Selling or Transferring Obscene Matter
- Section 1467(a). Criminal Forfeiture
- Section 1470. Transfer of Obscene Material to Minors
- Section 1591. Sex Trafficking of Children or by Force, Fraud, or Coercion
- Section 2241. Aggravated Sexual Abuse
- Section 2243. Sexual Abuse of a Minor or Ward
- Section 2251. Sexual Exploitation of Children
- Section 2251A(a)(b). Selling or Buying of Children
- Section 2252. Certain Activities Relating to Material Involving the Sexual Exploitation of Minors
- Section 2252A. Certain Activities Relating to Material Constituting or Containing Child Pornography
- Section 2253(a). Criminal Forfeiture
- Section 2254. Civil Forfeiture
- Section 2257. Record Keeping Requirements
- Section 2260(a)(b). Production of Sexually Explicit Depictions of a Minor for Importation into the United States
- Section 2421. Transportation Generally
- Section 2422. Coercion and Enticement
- Section 2423(a)(b). Transportation of Minors
- Section 2425. Use of Interstate Facilities to Transmit Information About a Minor
Implemented in April 2003, the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End Child Exploitation Today (PROTECT) Act was originally known for creating a nationwide AMBER Alert system, though it did much more, including increasing penalties for certain convictions. Read the full act for additional details.