- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

In an hour, 25 potential sexual predators on the Internet made advances on a blond, blue-eyed, 14-year-old girl in chat rooms with names like "Daddy's bed" and "Daddy for 'dirty girls.' "
"How old are you?" is usually the first question asked, and one person asked an obscene question about a sex act after typing just six lines.
The potential prey was actually FBI Special Agent Christopher Trifiletti, demonstrating how pervasive child victimization and child pornography is on the World Wide Web.
Agent Trifiletti was showcasing the FBI's "Innocent Images" undercover task force for Maryland law-enforcement officials, who were hosted by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro yesterday.
Agents with the task force pose as children, surfing the Web to catch pedophiles and merchants of child pornography.
"Predators like the illusion of anonymity on the Internet," Agent Trifiletti said. "But that's what it is an illusion of anonymity that can be broken down by good police work."
The 3-year-old "Innocent Images" task force is one of the FBI's most successful: 653 arrests, 653 indictments or charges filed, 598 convictions (a success rate of 91.6 percent), and 988 searches executed.
The program's success indicates not only the agents' ability but also "the explosive growth of trading child porn on the Web," Mr. Hoyer said.
The amount of child porn circulating, and number of predators trolling, among Web sites, e-mail messages, chat rooms, news groups and instant message services is almost infinite.
On Web pages alone, an illicit image of a child can be downloaded or transferred to a user's computer hundreds of thousands of times.
"That means the child will be re-victimized as many times as the image is downloaded," Agent Trifiletti said.
Every new wave of law enforcement devoted to fighting the problem just digs up more. Doubling the size of a computer-pedophile unit will just double the number of cases, law enforcement officials said.
There are other problems. Some people on the Internet are just role-playing for thrills, not actually seeking sexual encounters. And some children know far more about computers than their parents, making supervision difficult.
Judges often render suspended sentences or probation because many computer sex-offense convicts have no criminal records, law-enforcement officials said.
A Maryland judge recently overturned the conviction of a man arrested after he traveled to meet with a state trooper who had posed on-line as a teen-age girl. The judge said the trooper did not meet the criteria of a victim.
Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. David B. Mitchell yesterday said he is confident the state will win on appeal, but federal authorities have taken over prosecuting the case anyway.
"Many traditional pedophiles at the malls and playground now have moved to the computer in their living room because they feel it's safer," said Deputy Chief Clark R. Price of the Prince George's County Police Department.
As a result, county Police Chief John S. Farrell found federal grant money in 1997 to devote three officers to fighting Internet sex crimes.
One member of the team works directly with the Innocent Images computer office in Baltimore and assists the department with local cases, Chief Price said.
With 12 cases under investigation and a backlog of 20 more, Chief Farrell is seeking money to add three more members to the team.
"It's a big problem, and law enforcement is just now stepping up to the plate," Chief Price said.
Maryland State Police have 12 investigators devoted to fighting child porn and pedophiles on the Web, Col. Mitchell said.
With a backlog of at least 100 cases plus other crimes such as computer sabotage and hacking, Col. Mitchell is asking legislators to approve funds to double the team.
In Montgomery County, members of the pedophile unit and computer crime unit will team up for such crimes, said Officer Derek Baliles, a police spokesman.
Montgomery County police have initiated their own investigations into child porn and pedophiles using the Internet, Officer Baliles said.
Officers also have assisted federal authorities when they conduct a sting on a predator who agrees to meet children with the intent of sexually abusing them. The "children" turn out to be undercover agents or police officers.

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