First National Juvenile Online Victimization Study
Summary. The National Juvenile Online Victimization Study (N-JOV) was funded by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Department of Justice, OJJDP. It looks at the incidence and characteristics of juvenile online victimization cases, including sexual exploitation and child pornography cases, in the criminal justice system and it catalogues and describes barriers to the investigation and prosecution of juvenile online victimization cases.
As Internet use among children and adolescents has become widespread, concern has grown about the extent to which sexual offenders are using the Internet to gain access to child and adolescent victims and to collect and transmit child pornography. The full incidence of juvenile online victimization (JOV) is difficult to measure because sexual crimes are often unreported. However, the number of Internet-related child exploitation cases referred to the FBI Innocent Images program grew exponentially between 1996 and 2000. JOV cases have received a great deal of publicity, caused much concern among parents, law enforcement agencies, law makers, educators and other child advocates, and become a factor in the debate over Internet regulation. However, largely because these crimes are a recent phenomenon, information about the characteristics of JOV cases, offenders and victims, and about the concerns and experiences of the professionals involved in cases stemming from these crimes has not been systematically gathered.
The Goals of the N-JOV project are to:
- Provide sound national estimates of the number of juvenile online victimization cases ending in arrest during a one-year period (July 1, 2000 through June 30, 2001);
- Define categories and subcategories of juvenile online victimizations and describe case, offender and victim characteristics;
- Make policy recommendations to increase reporting of these crimes and improve prevention measures and provision of victim services.
- Describe barriers to the investigation and prosecution of JOV cases, data about disposition, sentences, and the use of victim services agencies in connection with these crimes;
- Make policy recommendations that respond to investigatory and prosecutorial needs.
The N-JOV study collected information from a national sample of law-enforcement agencies about the characteristics of Internet sex crimes against minors and the numbers of arrests for these crimes during a one-year period. Law-enforcement investigators were interviewed, because investigators have been in the forefront of identifying and combating these crimes and are the best sources of accessible, in-depth information about their nature. A focus was placed on cases that ended in arrests rather than crime reports or open investigations because cases ending in arrests were more likely to involve actual crimes; had more complete information about the crimes, offenders, and victims; gave a clear standard for counting cases; and helped avoid interviewing multiple agencies about the same case.
First a national sample of 2,574 state, county, and local law-enforcement agencies was surveyed by mail asking them if they had made arrests in Internet-related, child-pornography or sexual-exploitation cases. Then detailed telephone interviews were conducted with investigators who had such cases. The methodology was modeled after that used in the Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART-2) to survey law-enforcement agencies about child-abduction cases. A stratified sample of law-enforcement agencies was created to get information from agencies that specialized in Internet sex crimes against minors and still allow every agency a chance to be selected in the sample. To do this the agencies were divided into the three groups noted below.
- Agencies that specialized in investigating Internet sex crimes against minors. These included the 75 Internet Crimes against Children Task Forces and satellites, in operation at that point in time, funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, and units of 4 federal agencies specializing in Internet crimes.
- A random sample of 833 agencies known to have sent staff to training classes in Internet sex crimes against minors drawn from lists provided by training organizations.
- A random sample of 12% of all other U.S. state, county, and local law-enforcement agencies (n = 1,666) drawn from an annually updated directory of all U.S. law-enforcement agencies.
Eighty-eight percent of the agencies (n = 2,270) that received mail surveys responded. Seventeen percent of the agencies (n = 383) that responded reported 1,723 arrests. Interviews were conducted on all eligible cases that had identified victims or came from agencies reporting three or fewer cases. When agencies reported four or more cases, a random sample of cases was selected for interviews. To be eligible, cases had to:
- Have victims younger than 18.
- Involve arrests between July 1, 2000, and June 30, 2001.
- Be Internet-related.
Of the 1,077 cases in the sample, 58% (n = 630) interviews were completed, 26% did not meet eligibility requirements, 9% involved agencies that did not respond to requests for interviews, 2% involved respondents who refused to be interviewed, and 4% involved duplicate cases or cases that could not be identified. A statistical technique called “weighting” was used to estimate annual numbers of arrests. Weighting takes into account sampling procedures and non-response, allowing use of the data to project estimated annual arrest totals with 95% confidence that the accurate number will fall within a specific range.
Summary of Findings
- Law enforcement at all levels made an estimated 2,577 arrests during the 12 months starting July 1, 2000, for Internet sex crimes against minors.
- These Internet sex crimes against minors can be categorized in three mutually exclusive types:
- Internet crimes against identified victims involving Internet-related sexual assaults and other sex crimes such as the production of child pornography committed against identified victims (39% of arrests).
- Internet solicitations to undercover law enforcement posing as minors that involved no identified victims (25% of arrests).
- The possession, distribution, or trading of Internet child pornography by offenders who did not use the Internet to sexually exploit identified victims or solicit undercover investigators (36% of arrests).
- Two-thirds (67%) of offenders who committed any of the types of Internet sex crimes against minors possessed child pornography:
- 83% of these possessors had images of children between the ages of 6 and 12.
- 80% had images explicitly showing sexual penetration of minors.
- The vast majority of offenders were non-Hispanic White males older than 25 who were acting alone.
- Most investigations (79%) involved more than one law enforcement agency.
- State, county, and local agencies were involved in 85% of all cases and federal agencies in 46%.
- It appears there are fewer dismissals and acquittals for Internet sex crimes against minors than for conventional child sexual abuse prosecutions.
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