The Future

The future holds many challenges for those fighting Internet crimes against young people. Cases involving Internet crimes against children are complex and labor intensive for both the police and prosecutors. The time between victimization and arrest can be lengthy. These cases are usually multijurisdictional, which presents challenges in the investigation and prosecution of a case and can present problems for the criminal justice system, the child victim, and the family in terms of resources, travel, and court appearances.


Child victimization on the Internet is a complex matter. The full impact of such victimization on children is not completely understood. Family dynamics often play a significant role in children’s denial of a crime and their willingness to participate in the investigation and prosecution. A child’s ability to acknowledge and accept the crime can be linked to family values, peer pressure, and feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. Denial and recantation can be common among children who unwittingly participated in the crime. Because of these issues, the greatest challenges facing law enforcement and victim service professionals are to identify the victims, protect their privacy, and serve them without further victimization.

Until more knowledge is gathered about Internet crime and its effects on victims, law enforcement and victim service professionals will continue working on Internet child exploitation using the tactics and standard approaches that have proved effective for working with other types of child victims. These tactics and approaches are discussed below.

For Children

  • Ensure that the interview is conducted with developmentally appropriate language. A child’s ability to relate to concepts and receive messages varies depending on his or her stage of development. The interviewer must assess the child’s developmental level and adapt the interview accordingly.

  • Ensure that the interview is conducted in a culturally sensitive manner with culturally appropriate language. Determine which words the child is comfortable with. Is an interpreter needed? If so, use a professional interpreter and not a family member. Family members inadvertently may interject their interpretations into the translation and may prejudice the child’s account.

  • Be patient with victims. At first, many victims will deny their involvement. However, with continued support and encouragement, the child victim usually will divulge and discuss the victimization.

  • Avoid duplicative interviews when possible. Multiple interviewers and interviews tend to confuse and intimidate children, especially younger ones, and may revictimize the child and produce inconsistent victim statements. Joint or taped interviews minimize the number of interviews required and maintain consistent phrasing of questions.

  • If the victim is from another jurisdiction, work with victim witness staff in that community to ensure that victim services are provided.

  • Do not show surprise or shock. Remember, the youth is probably already feeling guilt, shame, or embarrassment about what occurred.

  • Be honest with the child about what he or she can expect from the investigation and prosecution of the case and about any future contact he or she may have with the perpetrator.

  • Talk to the child victim about a victim impact statement and restitution if the case will be prosecuted and if it is developmentally appropriate. Regardless of the child’s age, find ways to give him or her a sense of control over the situation—provide choices, no matter how small, and help him or her prepare for the court process. Consider requesting a guardian ad litem to represent and support the child throughout the legal process. Make the child familiar with the courtroom environment. A properly prepared child may find active involvement in the case empowering.

For the Family

  • Internet crimes against children impact the entire family. Family members may feel guilty for not protecting their child more effectively. They also may feel anger or shame about their child’s involvement in the crime. Family members are secondary victims and need to be offered support and information to help them understand the nature of these crimes and know how to better handle their often conflicting feelings.

  • Assist families victimized by Internet crime who require travel and lodging arrangements related to the legal proceedings, such as depositions
    and hearings.

  • Prepare the family for media and press coverage. Be sensitive to the privacy needs of the victim and family. Will the victim’s name appear in any public documents? If so, can these documents be sealed if the family so desires?

  • Help the family understand what their child is experiencing so they can help the child and feel some sense of control over the situation.7
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Internet Crimes Against Children
December 2001