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Dr. Marco Strano

The developments of C.I.R.P. (child internet risk perception) research project and the contribute to the development of new undercover investigation techniques in chat line

Introduction: children in chat line and enticement risk

Chat lines, as in the investigative experiences of law enforcement specialized agencies, represent the Internet area where children could be much more exposed to risks. These communication instruments, actually, even if involving computer intermediation between the interlocutors, allow sometimes extremely close human relations (communication), also neutralizing age and cultural gaps which usually restrict or select direct communication (face to face) between children and adults. Telecommunication are also lacking in additional identity elements (paralinguistic, visual, etc.) and the declared identity could be likely false. Therefore chat technology makes easier for paedophiles the starting contact with the possible victim and allow them some kind of verbal nuisances (to drive children on sexual topic) and attempts at meeting out of the net. The physiological curiosity about sexual topics, moreover, drives the children to assume dangerous behaviours keeping secret possible contacts with met on-line adults (paedophiles). Nowadays, from the scientific research about on-line paedophilia applied to crime investigation point of view, few concrete initiatives have been reported. Studies about criminal profiling available in this circle, are exclusively for internal use in the investigation sphere and are prevalently based on the figure of paedophile (Strano M., 2003) being so particularly helpful in the undercover investigations into the child-pornographic materials exchange networks, in which the detective has to sham a paedophile adult. The detectives necessity to personify a children with the aim of contrasting on-line enticement attempts, suggests, in our opinion, the benefit also of specialized studies which permit, in that way, the fulfilment of likely shammings.

Chat undercover activity

Several Nations (Australia, USA, UK end other) law enforcement specialized agencies are authorized to take part undercover in chat room, passing themselves as children and trying to attract possible paedophiles who attempt to entice on-line children. In this kind of operations detectives sham children made curious by paedophile proposals and try also to organize an appointment out of the net. These specialists learn shamming strategies especially through a training period with expert colleagues and sometimes through specific training courses. In this kind of investigations the biggest technical-investigative difficulty for the undercover detective is represented by the necessity to sham likely child (and so basically curious about possible new sexual experiences) but at the same time by the necessity to avoid to assume an excessively provocative behaviours, which could represent an invalidation grounds during the criminal trial for the investigations. Another difficulty in this circle is represented by the possibility that the paedophile attracted by an identity shamming could declare during the criminal trial that in fact he realized he was having to do with an adult and in consequence he wanted to “play”. In practice comes out the necessity, in this delicate and specialized investigative activity, that shamming techniques should be standardized and certified by a professional in psychological area, in order to make them likely (belonging to a child personality) and above all consistent, from the communication point of view, with procedural requirements. On the basis of these considerations, the ICAA realized some shamming models, based on a deep research (CIRP research project) about the analysis of thousand interviews carried out with children chat attender and pertinent to a long observation period, which offer possible guidelines usable both as standard investigative procedure and training base.

Child behaviour in chat when meeting paedophiles
Testings outcomes carried out by ICAA on the two years period 2003-2004, indicate that the percentage of children who met on-line adults (probably paedophiles) using chat-rooms and engaged in conversations about sexual topics, is undoubtedly considerable (13% of children who usually use chat-rooms) and prove that this ambit is really a dangerous background.
The presence of adult paedophile persons, who use chat-rooms sharing child-pornographic material and trying to approach few connected children, is almost completely verified and also proved by Police operations carried out nearly all over the world using undercover techniques.

Analysis of reactions of children who, through the chat-rooms, came into contact with supposed paedophile adult represent a background which need appropriate evaluation. The percentage of they who lived the event with positive connotation (curiosity 15%, attraction 7.6%) confirms, in fact, the natural curiosity of children about sexual topics which, actually, represents a context of strong facility for paedophiles.

The “neutral” coloured area (nothing particular 61.5%) doesn’t evoke situation of particular attraction neither warning and consequent pressing need of help through quick event communication to the parents and educators.


Concerning type and age of child which most attract paedophile into a chat-room, further experimentation (through on-line shamming) pointed out female (Strano, 2000; Finkelhor, 2001) 10-12 aged.

On-line child virtual model creation
Criminological studies about paedophiles enticement and nuisance strategies in chat-rooms and about children dangerous behaviours contemplated an advanced phase during which the ICAA researchers shammed children and let paedophiles in chat-rooms to entice them, in order to reach the following cognitive goals:

  • 1. analysis of verbal nuisances and enticement attempts;
  • 2. in field examination of paedophiles approaching strategies in chat-rooms;
  • 3. analysis of possible behaviours (reproduced by researcher who sham child) and personality structures which could encourage on-line nuisances in some cases;
  • 4. child psychology which most attracts enticement from paedophile and out of the net meeting attempts with the aim of sexual abuse.

The research ran from ICAA for nearly 6 months in main Italian chat-rooms showed that children attitudes (in terms of greater or lower sexual curiosity) which cause wider number of enticement attempts are those which reproduce D model (curiosity) and  model (biggest availability).

Followed ICAA research protocol provides for 5 different behavioural profiles:

  • A model (absolute awariness)
  • B model (ingenuosness)
  • C model (perplexity)
  • D model (curiosity)
  • E model (biggest availability)

Every model includes a wide list of real behaviours (for law enforcement agents exclusive use) that “virtual child” keeps in the chat-room during the interaction with paedophile which may find useful application for undercover investigation standardization and during specialized training of investigative teams.

Guidelines for undercover activity with child shamming
ICAA studies about children behaviours and attitudes in chat-room then suggest that a possible shamming undercover activity aimed should “reproduce” female child 10-12 aged who puts on attitude models and personality profile of shammed child according to D and E models (ICAA typology) which being for law enforcement agents exclusive use are not published in this article . Overall, profiles come out from experimentation which are suggested for a profitable undercover investigation activity, reproduce a female child model who is enough uninhibited and curious, longing to experience “prohibited” sensations and enough aware to do something transgressive. At the same time D and E models provide enough respectful attitude towards enticer adult and in this way they comply with paedophile desire to represent a kind of sex teacher for the young victim (covering most of them sexual inadeguacy sensation). So the shammed female child shows herself overjoyed to be in front of an older person “who has certainly a lot of experiences to tell her” and reassures paedophile to keep this contact secret. The application of shamming techniques in the undercover activity needs a complex and careful training and generally is successfully driven by investigative staff who have some peculiarity of character and considerable intelligence besides, clearly, an emotions control big skill.


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