Hunting Sexual Predators

Now,more that ever, police departments need to know who is lurking in the shadows of internet chat rooms.

U.S. Department of Justice Press Release, Thursday, November 2, 2006:


WASHINGTON--Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) Director John F. Clark today announced that a seven-day nationally coordinated fugitive roundup led by the USMS and hundreds of partners from state, local and other federal agencies led to the arrests of 10,773 fugitives. Among those arrested during Operation FALCON III were 1,659 fugitive sex offenders, the largest number ever captured in a single law enforcement effort.

Now, this is really scary. Over 10% of all the fugitives that were arrested last week were sex offenders! This led me to think about our changing society. Were there this many perverts around in the 1960s? 80s? My first collar as a rookie at the NYPD was a "dicky waver" in front of the Four Seasons Restaurant on E. 52nd Street, but certainly 10 % of all my collars were not perverts, were they? Well, maybe they were, but they just didn't have the "kiddy superstore" that today's predators have: the internet chat rooms.

Until this week, I had never visited an internet chat room. Sure, I have been using computers for three decades now, and like most of you, I would be totally lost without access to my e-mail accounts. Yeah, I use Instant Messenger (IM), but I limit my contacts to family and close friends. Why would I want to go to a chat room? I already know enough people that I don't want to talk to. Why talk to strangers? I use the word "talk" very loosely here. Trying to read what is being said in a chat room is like trying to learn Mandarin Chinese. Acronyms flow like water over the Niagara Falls. Some acronyms are simple enough for me to comprehend, like "FYI" meaning "For Your Information." Others require a learning curve, such as "GMTA" (Great Minds Think Alike), or "PMJI" (Pardon Me for Jumping In).

Chat rooms also seem very crowded and chaotic. It's like what I remember the CB radio to be--a lot people breaking into others' conversations at the click of a button, and the words "Breaker 19, this is Tiny Tom. Anyone out there?" The chat rooms that I visited this week were very much the same. I saw lots of people typing at the same time, about different things, and communicating (I think) with multiple people whom they don't know. I found it very hard to figure out who was talking to whom, and about what.

Then it hit me. I had read many stories in my local newspaper about people meeting online, and then getting married. Those were the good stories. The one's that make you smile. I also remembered reading, watching TV news, and hearing radio news stories about kids, and even adults being murdered, raped, and otherwise abused by predators that found them through the Internet. Yes, chat rooms can be a candy store for sexual predators. Suddenly, some of those simple acronyms began to take on a sinister meaning. I started to explore this new language and discovered some of the following terms:

  • A/S/L: age/sex/location
  • POS: parent over shoulder
  • PIR: parent in room
  • WYRN: what's your real name
  • F2F: face to face
  • MIRL: meet in real life

These terms are not too disturbing if the chat is actually between two 15-year-olds, but how about between a 15-year-old girl and a 30-year-old man posing as a 15-year-old girl, using a chat room name of "littlelucy"? This is a disturbing picture, but one that plays itself out all over the country, hundreds of times every day.

Almost every police department in the country now has a squad that deals with online sexual predators. There have been many successes in recent years. People from all walks of life have been arrested for arranging and traveling to meetings with 14-year-old girls or boys for the purpose of having sex. These people were doctors, lawyers, businessmen, schoolteachers, public servants, etc., but they all had something in common; they were sexual predators who thought that they had arranged to meet a child at the mall, but instead were greeted by police detectives.

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