A New Algorithm Can Detect Online Sexual Predators

Approximately 13% of child internet users receive unwanted sexual solicitations. One in 25 internet users under 18 have received an online sexual solicitation in which the solicitor attempted to make contact offline. And, 76% of initial encounters of a predator with an internet-initiated sex crimes victim take place in online chat rooms. Additionally, most juvenile victims of internet-initiated sex crimes willingly meet the predator face-to-face and 93% of those encounters include sexual contact.

Child sexual exploitation impacts all races, nationalities and socio-economic groups around the world. As  predators are increasingly using the internet to find victims, law enforcement have also been employing various types of technology in order to apprehend suspects.

Last August, for instance, Bleeping Computer reported on a case in which police used a booby trapped video which led to the arrest of an online sexual predator. VPN logs have also been used recently to track down cybercriminals.

Algorithm created to identify sexual predators

Scientists in the US have now developed an algorithm that can pinpoint sexual predators on internet chat boards.

This tool, the Chat Analysis Triage Tool (CATT), could be implemented by the end of the year.

Designed by researchers at the Purdue University College of Technology, this tool was devised to help law enforcement track down and arrest sexual predators by identifying the sex offenders most likely to pose the most danger. To create the algorithm, over 4,300 messages from 107 online discussions were compiled. These messages all involved sexual predators who had already been arrested. The researchers were then able to identify redundancies in the words used by these predators.

Analysis of the redundancies includes the “self-disclosure” mechanism used by sexual predators. It is a tactic in which the suspect tries to gain the trust of the victim by sharing a personal story, usually negative, such as parental violence. The basis of CATT is made up of these observations. 

The tool enables law enforcement to quantify the level of solicitations of the person and approximate an individual’s age by analyzing the language. It can also assist law enforcement with setting up a fake (undercover) profile of a child that is an accurate representation of a child in a given age range. Once the offender initiates a conversation with the fake profile, law enforcement can begin reeling the suspect in. Additionally, the algorithm provides analysis of the risks and the probability that the suspect will try to come into direct contact with the victim.

According to the researchers, utilizing this assessment increases efficiency because it allows law enforcement to prioritize cases in which the risk to children is the most severe.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is a clearinghouse & comprehensive reporting center for all issues related to the prevention of and recovery from child victimization. The NCMEC works in conjunction with the FBI and is focused on the abduction, abuse, and exploitation of children. The number of reports the NCMEC responded to in 2017 regarding possible child sex trafficking is 10,093. To report instances of child sexual exploitation, visit the CyberTipline. Reports may be made 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. 

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