Sexual Exploitation of Children-US Dept. of Justice/FBI-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re here today to talk about sexual exploitation of children and when I say that we have two of the premier national experts to talk to us today, I’m not kidding. Francey Hicks, National Coordinator of Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction from the United States Department of Justice and Nickolas Savage, Supervisory Special Agent Acting Section Chief of the Cyber Division of the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One million people – that’s the estimate – one million people are online at any given time and they’re looking for your child or they’re looking for images of your child; a million people online and your children online. Your eight-year-old is online. Your twelve-year-old is online and you’ve got a million people to contend with. It’s a bit of a scary problem, but one of the really interesting things is that for the first time, the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, has put together a national strategy and has convened a whole bunch of meetings with a whole bunch of experts and we’re here to talk about that. So that’s a long introduction to reintroduce Francey Hicks and Nickolas Savage. Welcome to DC Public Safety.

Francey Hicks:  Thanks for having me, Len.

Len Sipes:  All right. Francey, first of all, the national strategy, we now have for the first time a national strategy under the auspices of the U.S. Attorney General. Tell me about that.

Francey Hicks:  Well, Len, not only do we have a national strategy, but we’ve seen its gradual implementation over the last year. Back in August of 2010, as you said, the Attorney General launched the first ever-national strategy for child exploitation prevention and interdiction. It’s the first of its kind anywhere in the world and in that document, which is available on our website at

Len Sipes:  Thank you.

Francey Hicks:  We have three different parts. So the first part is the first ever threat assessment that was conducted to gauge the threat our children face from a variety of harms on the internet and in the physical world as it relates to child pornography, as it relates to child sex tourism, as it relates to being enticed online and as it relates to child prostitution.  Second part of the national strategy is a full review of all the actions of the federal government at every level with every agency possible that you can imagine who have a piece in child protection and that includes the investigative agencies. That includes the grant funders who are funding Internet safety programs, for example, and that includes all of those who are engaged in tracking sex offenders. The third part of the national strategy is, if you will, our pledge. Our pledge of how we are going to tackle this problem going forward and we’ve spent the last year attempting to fulfill the pledges in the national strategy to collaborate better with our federal, state, local and international partners. For example, to collaborate better with industry to come up with new technologies to fight the scourge of child exploitation, to equip our investigators and our prosecutors with more sophisticated and innovative training. Those are just a few examples of the things that we promise to do that we have carried through on this last year.

Len Sipes:  So the whole idea is an across the board cooperation of federal, state and local agencies. So we’re all pretty much singing from the same sheet of music. We’re all pretty much moving in the same direction. We’ve all uniformly defined the problem. We all uniformly understand what it takes to deal with the problem. That’s the whole idea behind what Attorney General Eric Holder has done, correct?

Francey Hicks:  That’s right.  So many people were engaging in great work fighting child exploitation, but they were doing it separately. Now, we’re doing it together.

Len Sipes:  Right and we’re going to switch over to Nickolas because, Nick, the cyber division of the FBI, I can’t imagine a more exciting division to be in and in a more interesting division to be in. I mean I’ve been in my entire life, professional life since the age of 18 in the criminal justice system and I would think that it would be the profiling division, profiling hard core very violent criminals or it would be the cyber division. Those two, to me, seem to be the two tech premier organizations within the FBI. So what is that you guys do?

Nickolas Savage:  Well, the cyber division certainly has grown a lot over the last decade. I mean, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody the number of computers that are now in the home and how it’s really just revolutionary in the sense that it’s just changed our everyday life.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nickolas Savage:  Unfortunately, as technology emerges, we have individuals out there that use that technology to exploit our children.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nickolas Savage:  And certainly the FBI has taken a stance to really to protect our children and to echo what Francey has just said, in today’s day and age, there are so many more children that are online than ever before. There are more offenders that out there. So certainly there are more opportunities for them. It is through this coordinated effort and this way of doing things more effectively that really is ultimately what we’re here to do and to try and thwart this problem.

Len Sipes:  Now, your program, I think, is Innocent Images?

Nickolas Savage:  Yes, sir.

Len Sipes:  Tell me about that.

Nickolas Savage:  Innocent Images is an undercover operation and we have currently 43 throughout the United States that specifically go online to target those individuals who are targeting our children. We work those individuals who attempt to meet children online. Either travel to meet children or to get children to travel to them. We also work with matters regarding child, images of child abuse – child pornography. Those are predominantly our two biggest areas that Innocent Images really addresses.

Len Sipes:  So the whole idea is that the perpetrator is online, searching for a minor. He could be talking to an FBI agent. He could be talking to a member of the State police. He could be talking to a member of the local law enforcement agency.

Nickolas Savage:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  That, to me, is wonderful.

Nickolas Savage:  It’s a very good thing and certainly we try to, you know, we want that to be in the conscience of the country because I think it gives parents a feeling knowing that law enforcement has taken this effort to protect your children as well as letting individuals who want to target these children. It certainly plants this seed that, in fact, they could be talking to a law enforcement officer.

Len Sipes:  I’ve been this program, this kind of program, for a lot of years and I have talked to people under supervision who have said, “I saw the TV program.” Not necessarily the one we did, Francey, but I’ve seen a television program. I’ve listened to a radio program and that worries me, the fact that Sally who was 12 years old could be an FBI agent and so, obviously this is a deterrent. It plants something in the mind of the offender of, number one, I shouldn’t be doing this to begin with, but number two, who am I really talking to.

Nickolas Savage:  I think it’s a deterrent for some. Unfortunately, it’s not enough of a deterrent as anybody is familiar with some of the shows that have highlighted this problem, many…

Len Sipes:  Some of the television shows, yeah. Unbelievable. Unbelievable.

Nickolas Savage:  I think it did a good job of highlighting this problem, but also the sense that when these individuals are caught, they’re often not surprised that it is law enforcement. I think the dangerous thing that we need to take away from that is the fact that these individuals, even knowing or thinking that it could be someone in law enforcement, still decided to take the chance and travel anyway.

Len Sipes:  Well, then let’s get down to the larger problem and then this becomes a more interesting part of the program. We do need Francey to get to deterrents. We do need to talk about prevention and we do need to talk about new technologies, but the average parent listening to this program, whether it’s a Mayor of a city or somebody from Congress, I mean they’re going to be parents too and they’re sitting there listening to this program going, “Wait a minute.” I mean my eight-year-old is online. My twelve-year-old is online. A million people out there are trying to target my kid, what in the name of God do I say to my kid? What in the name of Heavens can I do to prevent my child from being sucked into this because sexual predators are extraordinarily powerful in terms of how they conduct their business? They can suck that child in pretty easily. They know what to say. They know the buttons to push. So isn’t this all about first of all, from a prevention point of view, parents sitting down with their kids and letting their kids clearly know without scaring them half to death, letting them very clearly understand that there are people online who can do them harm, Francey?

Francey Hicks:  Well, you’re right, Len. That is actually critical and what I would say first is that we’d rather have a whole lot of prevention and a whole lot less investigation and prosecution. We’d rather see fewer victims rather than see more cases, obviously. So the more we can prevent, the fewer cases there are. The most important thing I think for parents and educators to take away is that it’s actually not that difficult. They just have to have a conversation with their child. The most important, the single most important thing they can do as a parent, is know what their children are doing online.

Len Sipes:  But they won’t. Let me stop you there. I’ve seen the commercials. I run the commercials on my television program where the father walks into the bedroom. People don’t do that and handheld computers are now called Smartphones.

Francey Hicks:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  So, okay, so the eight-year-old, nine-year-old, ten-year-old, twelve-year-old’s walking around with an iPhone or Droid and so they can access whatever they want from that little device. How can a parent control that access?

Francey Hicks:  Well, a parent needs to understand what their child is doing and what the smart parent is doing is going in after their child and checking to see what it is their child is doing. In addition to having the conversation that you mentioned, that is actually arming the child with the knowledge that will help the child be a more sophisticated consumer, be a more sophisticated user and be armed with sort of the defense against a predator who would prey upon, but also they need to make sure they understand what their children are doing and while you’re right. There are definitely going to be some parents, unfortunately, who simply will not talk to their child or will not go behind to see what their child are doing, I hope the large majority of parents, in fact, will. I mean this is your child’s innocence, sometimes tragically their life at stake. So what’s more important to you?

Len Sipes:  Well, you know, Nick, every child is vulnerable to a certain degree. You can have a perfectly fine stable child doing good in school, respectful, everything about that child is fine and yet that child will find vulnerabilities in their lives and the offenders that you deal with are experts at exploiting whatever vulnerabilities they are and in the life of every young person, there are going to be vulnerabilities.

Nickolas Savage:  Well, Len, you make an excellent point and one that I was going to make at some time later on down the line. I like to tell people that we’re all vulnerable, not just children. All of us have vulnerabilities to some point and you’re right. These individuals are very good and they’re patient at exploiting those vulnerabilities and, unfortunately, I can remember years ago I worked a case with a little twelve-year-old girl that was just simply gorgeous, was a straight A student, had a perfect home life. Unbeknownst to her parents, she in fact was victimized from an individual from Georgia. The shame of it was, was that she had developed early in her life and people didn’t see her as even a potential victim. The problem was she was seen as a sexual object by many of her peers and along came an individual that just simply wanted to “love her,” that didn’t treat her like all the other boys and it was just a way for him to exploit that vulnerability and just to follow up something that Francey had said, I think we have I think three, at least three problems. One, with respect to home is parents often look over and they see their children in the confines of their own home and there is a certain safety associated with being able to see my children in this environment, in that home environment. So parents think that my child is safe because I can see them. The other thing is that parents of this generation really think they’re tech savvy. I thought it was dangerous a generation ago where parents knew very little and kids could run circles around their parents. Today, I find that parents are often much more in a bad situation because, well, they’re not afraid by technology and they use it themselves. Therefore, they think they’re as equal as or even smarter than their kids. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Kids today can run circles around most adults when it comes to the internet and what’s going on and I think parents are just simply afraid to ask the tough questions.  I often tell parents, if you don’t talk to your children, there are a lot of people online who are willing to talk to your kids.

Len Sipes:  Bottom line, I think, in terms of this long decades discussion of child safety is to keep an open and honest conversation going with your kids and have an open and honest conversation. The second thing is is that as you have both said this is not a one shot deal. This is the person who is going to be working your child piece by piece by piece. This not a one-contact event; this is a multiple, multiple contact event, which should give a parent an opportunity to figure this out at a certain point, correct?

Nickolas Savage:  Well, oftentimes, kids are reluctant to even say anything for two…they have two fears. Number one, that that computer, which is often their lifeline, is going to be taken away from them.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nickolas Savage:  The other thing is that parents often rush to judgment that somehow the child did something wrong, not that their child was a potential victim. So children are afraid to say anything because oftentimes when they do, parents over react and assume that the child did something wrong.

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the program and the program flies by like wildfire whenever we touch the subject. Francey Hicks, National Coordinator Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction for the United States Department of Justice –, Nickolas Savage is a supervisory special agent with the cyber division at the FBI –, By the way, if you’ve never been on the FBI’s website, they are probably the most sophisticated of any of the criminal justice agencies, whether it’s federal, state level in terms of the amount of information that they put out there – really good in terms of social media. So let’s pick up with some of these larger questions again. We just went through an incident. Joe Paterno, University Penn State or…I forget.

Francey Hicks:  Penn State.

Len Sipes:  Penn State, thank you. You just saved me. And the allegations…and I know we can’t specifically about the allegations, but the allegations are that employees saw child sexual exploitation at its meanest, nastiest, basest level.  Saw it and didn’t report it. Now, whether or not that’s true or not true is not what I want to discuss, but there’s a certain point where we tend to gloss over or afraid to touch some of these issues regarding exploitation of children and sometimes I get the sense that that’s our biggest problem. It’s not necessarily technology. It’s not necessarily parents. It’s not necessarily music. Sometimes we’re just scared to death to deal with this issue.

Francey Hicks:  Well, I think that actually brings up a great point. So we talked a few minutes ago about the dangers children face online and how absolutely determined, as Agent Savage said, these pedophiles and some predators are to make contact with, travel to see, encourage your child to produce child pornography etc., but the danger, at least statistically, is much greater to your child from someone within your child’s circle of trust.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Francey Hicks:  And that I think is the thing that is most difficult for us as parents or community leaders or educators to recognize and to do anything about and that is that the people who have multiple contacts with your child all the time, whether it’s the teacher or whether it’s the police officer, whether it’s the soccer coach, whether it’s the football coach and whether it’s the karate instructor. These people all have access to your child and vast majority of all of those people are dedicated to making your child’s life happier, more full, enriched, etc., but there is certainly a certain portion of them that are in those positions because those positions allow them access to children.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Francey Hicks:  And that’s the danger here and I think what you’re talking about, at least what the news report’s saying…I’m not commenting on the facts…

Len Sipes:  Of course.

Francey Hicks:  Of the case and what’s true and what’s not, but if you look just simply at what is the right thing to do versus what is the legal thing to do, I think all states, have mandatory reporting laws and that is people who are medical professionals and education professionals and certain others are required by law to report suspected child abuse. It’s not even reporting confirmed child abuse. It’s if they suspect child abuse they are required by law to…

Len Sipes:  Right and I want to make clear it’s not Joe Paterno that’s alleged to be involved in this directly. It’s that he was part of the chain of people who supposedly knew about this and didn’t report it.

Francey Hicks:  Right.  Well, so obviously I’m not commenting specifically on that –

Len Sipes:  Of course.

Francey Hicks:  The facts of that case.

Len Sipes:  But it just wanted to make it clear. I brought up Joe Paterno’s name and he’s not directly involved in the actual act. He was involved in not reporting it. That’s the allegation.

Francey Hicks:  Right. So you have laws that require people to report, which are slightly different in every state, but fairly basic and then you have what really boils down something that makes, I think, people sometimes uncomfortable is the moral question of what’s the right thing to do. There’s the legal thing to do and what’s the right thing to do and  I think that’s what’s driving the conversation from this particular scandal going on at Penn State is, what was the right thing to do and was the right thing done? And for those people who believe the right thing wasn’t done, that is that act of sexual abuse, if it was occurring, was not stopped and that act was apparently, at least allegedly, not reported to the police and so when it comes to other cases that are similar, I think we all have to ask ourselves are we prepared to do the right thing no matter how difficult it is and I think part of the difficulty is in accepting that your child’s molester may very well be someone you know well. It may be someone you’re living with. It could be your spouse, your brother, your mother, your sister. It could be an aunt or a coach and oftentimes those people are in such positions of trust. It’s very difficult to accept they would do it, much less that they did it.

Len Sipes:  And, Nick, this is why again we get back to the age appropriate conversation with the child because Francey is right. I mean the great majority of the individuals involved in sexually exploiting a child. Here we are talking about online individuals, strangers if you will, but the majority of victims, they know the person who is doing the victimizing and so we have to have those age appropriate conversations with the child. We cannot scare the child. We have to keep an open line of communication at all times, but somehow, some way, we got to convey to that child that people who know you may do you harm. They may look innocent. They may act innocent. They may befriend you, but they could do you harm. That’s an awfully difficult conversation to have.

Nickolas Savage:  Well, I think we’ve, to some degree, almost done a disservice to our children. We’ve always warned of stranger danger and we never really have to worry about kids around strangers per se. It is often these pillars of the community who have access to our children that everybody is shocked when the allegations are made public. That they just can’t conceive of an individual whether it is somebody in a trust…most who are in a trust of position actually having done something like this. An interesting thing with respect to being online is that we found a lot of our victim who were victimized online, again, getting back to these individuals being good at befriending these victims. Oftentimes, these kids don’t see their victimizer as an individual who was a stranger. They often associate them…

Len Sipes:  Good point.

Nickolas Savage:  As a friend.

Len Sipes:  Excellent point. Excellent point. All right, so the general three things – deterrents, prevention, new technologies, what haven’t we covered, Francey, in the final ten minutes of the program?

Francey Hicks:  Well, I think it’s important to note that recently the Attorney General hosted a call to action, a summit, discussing child exploitation where we brought together three separate panels of internationally renowned experts to discuss preventing, deterring and interdicting this crime and when it came to prevention, we talked specifically about these kinds of problems and how do we address this and everyone agreed that while there are lots of great prevention programs out there. We’re obviously missing the message because children are continuing to be sexually abused by people in their circle of trust. So we need to inspire a movement and treat this much more as a public health issue and make a much stronger push to educate children properly, not with the old stranger danger model – not that there’s not some validity to it. There certainly is and children need to beware of strangers, but we need to pass the message along to children about the circle of trust and make sure they understand what it is that they need to arm themselves against.

Len Sipes:  Okay and I think we also get to yell at the larger society for some of the quasi issues in terms of movies and advertising and music that sort of, to some people, in their own minds, sort of gives them a bit of a green light, that if it’s perfectly fine to put this image on a billboard in Times Square, it’s perfectly fine for me to do what it is I’m thinking about doing. I mean, what’s the stronger message to society? You’re a complete jerk and if you act on these thoughts…

Francey Hicks:  Well, I think it’s very important to note that sexualisation of children is a big concern. It’s a big concern of researchers. There’s been lots of research done about the early and too young sexualisation of children. What exactly that is, we could debate, I think, for hours.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Francey Hicks:  But there definitely is a concern that media and industry should at least be aware of the message that they’re sending in sexualizing young children.

Len Sipes:  Talk about the new technologies. I mean one of the things that really interested…either one of you can take this. The photo DNA. I think, we have new technologies that are coming on board that allows us to identify people involved, allows us to identify the children involved, allows us to identify the offenders involved.  So there’s new technology coming on board. Some of it was can talk about. Some of it we can’t talk about, but to offenders who would happen to be listening to this program, we have developed an array of new tools to track you down.

Francey Hicks:  Well, that’s right and one of the most exciting to come in a long time was a tool that was developed by Microsoft in conjunction with a man named Dr. Hany Farid at Dartmouth College. It’s called photo DNA and it’s very exciting because it takes images that we know are child pornography images and allows a company like Facebook, which has just adopted the technology and started using it on their system, to search out and find on their system, images of known child pornography that are the worst of the worst in a way that we were never able to do before. So old technology was sort of like a digital fingerprint, but if one tiny little pixel was off, that digital fingerprint was different and we couldn’t necessarily find the very same image even if they were sitting next to each other. Now, this new technology allows these companies to search for these images in a much more efficient and much more thorough way and we’re already getting cases from those.

Len Sipes:  So we can identify both the victim and we can identify both the perpetrator, Nick?

Nickolas Savage:  Well, it’s certainly one of the things that we’re working toward. One of the goals of law enforcement is to try and identify who these children are so that the abuse, the exploitation stops. So we’re very excited to be partnering with non-government agencies with the private industry to be able to use this technology to, again, just to help keep children safe.

Francey Hicks:  Well, and to interrupt the traffic and I think it’s important to note just a little bit of a scary statistic, but the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children charged by Congress with trying to identify children has reviewed more than 35 million images of suspected child pornography over a period of time and these, unfortunately, these numbers are simply getting larger every year. So technology that will aid industry and law enforcement in interrupting the traffic of these images, which of course just perpetuates the abuse of the children, is going to be critical to our effort to clean the internet up and, hopefully, one day eradicate this kind of image from the internet altogether.

Len Sipes:  Well, there’s a certain point where this person lives sort of anonymously. We do know that every case that comes to our attention is certainly not the full degree of this person’s involvement. For every case that comes to our attention, we speculate certainly that this person has been doing it to other children as well. So one person, one case oftentimes with one victim does, in fact, represent multiple victims in terms of the past. I can’t imagine a person who has that view of life, who takes these steps, are just out there doing it once or twice. Nick?

Nickolas Savage:  I’d agree. I try to couch it in terms of adult sexuality in that it would be like saying, “I’ve only had one girlfriend or one boyfriend or one partner throughout my entire lifetime.” Individuals who are sexually attracted to children are attracted to children.

Len Sipes:  And that sexual attraction to children doesn’t go away.

Nickolas Savage:  It does not and if you are working in an online undercover capacity, if an individual happens to be engaged in conversation with an undercover law enforcement officer, it is more than fair to assume that there are other kids that are being targeted by this individual. It’s just not happenstance that an individual attracted to children just happens to engage their first conversation with a law enforcement officer.

Len Sipes:  Alright, so let me summarize because we only have a couple of minutes left in the program and that is you need to have age appropriate conversations with your kids. You gotta, gotta, gotta know where your kids are going on the internet. I mean you’ve really do have to do that. If you’re going to be a good and responsible parent, you have to get thoroughly involved in the life of your child and if your child doesn’t like it, tough. You’ve got to be a good parent, but still have…to keep open that line of communication. A lot of kids don’t report this because they’re afraid the parents are going to take away the computer, so that could be part of it. That there’s a wide array of new technologies that we’re bringing on board, a national strategy that we’re bringing on board to hunt down the perpetrators, to bring them to justice, to put them in prison, to take care of it. What am I missing here?

Francey Hicks:  I think that’s pretty summary, Len. I think it’s important for offenders who might be listening to this conversation to understand that we are doing everything in our considerable power to find you and to bring you to justice and to see that you don’t sexually abuse children and that’s our main goal and it always will be.

Len Sipes:  And across the board, I forgot one thing. Again, it is not simply a matter of stranger danger. You’ve got to have that conversation with that child in terms of making sure that he or she understands that the person close them, that they know, could be the victimizer.

Nickolas Savage:  Parents can’t start too early. I mean if there’s a take-away that I’d also like to mention, it’s that parents shouldn’t be afraid of technology and the Internet. The Internet is a wonderful thing and we need to teach our children to be good cyber citizens. So it’s a matter of parents, they cannot start too early. Engage them in conversation as soon you can.

Len Sipes:  Nick, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. I’ve been your host, Leonard Sipes. Our guests today – really, really, really honored to have them both at our microphones – Francey Hicks, National Coordinator of Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction with the US Department of Justice,, Nickolas Savage, Supervisory Special Agent Acting Section Chief or an Acting Section Chief for the Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and again, thank you. We really appreciate your calls, your letters, your comments via email for future show suggestions and whatever else that you have on your mind and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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