Social Media Warfare to Rescue Missing and Exploited Children

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) operates a CyberTipline ( 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

Complaints received by the NCMEC that indicate a violation of federal law are referred to the FBI for appropriate action. An FBI analyst reviews the information received by the CyberTipline. Analysts conduct research and analyses to identify individuals suspected of any of the following crimes:

  • ? 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 is identified, FBI analysts 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.

In 2008, the FBI, working with the NCMEC, began operation “Rescue Me,” an aggressive program that uses image analysis to determine the identity of child victims depicted in child sexual exploitation material found on the Internet or from other sources. Focusing on items seen in the backgrounds of child pornography images and videos, analysts attempt to answer four basic questions to identify and subsequently rescue victimized children:

  • ? What useful clues are there in the background? (e.g., What is 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?

In February 2004, the FBI established the Endangered Child Alert program (ECAP) as a new proactive approach to identify unknown individuals involved in the sexual abuse of children and the production of child pornography. A collaborative effort between the FBI and the NCMEC, 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 the ECAP, the faces of many Jane/John Does have been broadcast on cooperating television shows.

The FBI’s VCAC program provides 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 established Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) teams were established 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. 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.

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 nonfamily 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, a parent kidnapping his or her own child and fleeing for parts unknown, often overseas, happen often. Under the 1982 Missing Children’s 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 United States:

  • ? 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.
  • ? Unlawful flight to avoid prosecution (UFAP) Parental Kidnapping: When criminal charges are filed by a state that requests help, a criminal arrest warrant can be issued for an abducting parent who flees across state lines or internationally. In nations that have signed The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, there is a civil process that facilitates the return of abducted children under 16 years of age to their home countries.

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 does not seek the arrest or return of the abductor. Thus, a criminal process would not be pursued if circumstances indicate it will jeopardize an active Hague Convention civil process.

It is important to understand that the FBI has no investigative jurisdiction outside the United States except on the high seas and other locations specifically identified by U.S. Congress. The FBI works through existing partnerships with international authorities through the U.S. Department of State, the Legal Attache program, and INTERPOL. The Department of State receives approximately 1200 new Hague and non-Hague cases annually.

The FBI authority in parental kidnapping cases stems from the Fugitive Felon Act as part of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1073—UFAP. 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 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.

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 years old or younger. 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 is reported to a local FBI field office, to FBI headquarters, or to the NCMEC, or in other cases when the FBI determines an investigation is warranted.

In June 2003, the FBI, in conjunction with the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the NCMEC, launched the Innocence Lost National Initiative. This combined effort was aimed at addressing the growing problem of domestic sex trafficking of children in the United States. To date, more than 4800 children have been rescued. Investigations have successfully led to the conviction of more than 2000 pimps, madams, and their associates who exploit children through prostitution. These convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including multiple life sentences and the seizure of real property, vehicles, and monetary assets [5]. Presented here is a list of major cases:

  • ? 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: 69 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 identified 30 child victims

There are several federal government statutes relating to crimes against children:

  • ? 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. S ex 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 [5]
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