Online sex stings are booming across the nation, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Arrests have doubled since 2001; so many cops are online that the federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program is expanding its intelligence database so that police don’t trip over each other in cyberspace. Cyberstings also are getting unprecedented exposure with Dateline NBC’s controversial “To Catch a Predator” series, which features a civilian group called Perverted Justice nabbing suspects while cameras roll.
The phenomenon raises questions: Are stings deterring predators? Or is the Internet creating more of them? And why are so many men — almost all of them white and many well-educated — trolling online for teens when they know they’re being hunted? The short answers: Probably, maybe and because they can’t help themselves. The best evidence indicates that there has been a dramatic overall decline in sexual abuse of U.S. children over the past 15 years. Still, federal cses against those who prey on children or collect kiddie porn have jumped from 344 in 1995 to 1,576 last year. Many suspects will write in their correspondence, “I hope you’re not a cop,” but they accept the answer when a cop says that he’s not. “Why do they accept that [lie]? Because they need to,” said consultant Kenneth Lanning, formerly of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit. “This is need-driven behavior, not thought-driven behavior.” The U.S. Justice Department funds 46 Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces. The program is adding more law enforcement agencies and beefing up a “deconfliction” computer system that allows police to share intelligence.