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Archive for the ‘Supervision’ Category

The Problem Of Accessing Cybersex Risk

August 18th, 2011

Those employed in community corrections are constantly working to identify high risk cases and to focus supervision efforts on those cases. This is one of the principles of evidence based practices in community corrections.  The general public considers high risk cases as those involving sex offenders. However, not all sex offender cases represent the same high risk or dare I say even a greater risk than other offender cases. But what about sex offenders in which the Internet is involved, so called “Internet sex crimes”? Who are they and what kind of risk do they represent?

Some folks think an Internet sex crime is the adult caught on Dateline’s show,  “Catch a Predator”, trying to hook up with a kid, but get Chris Hanson and the police instead. For some it is the adult or young adult sending, soliciting, and or receiving illicit images or text from young teenagers or children, otherwise known as “sexting.” Still others are thinking of the guy downloading or trading child porn with other offenders. There are also those offenders who use the Internet to locate, lure, and rape both children and/or adults. So who is right? Which of these is an Internet Sex Crime? Well they all can be. That is exactly part of the problem. We often are talking about different offenses. We end up painting these broad risk assessments based upon a “sex crime” and the “Internet” and we get mixed results. Some folks feel is it is all illegal digital make believe and it is not a big deal. At the other extreme are folks that think everyone is a cyber-Hannibal Lecter.

Well lets try to refine the definitions and put some numbers to the categories to see if we can focus in on the risk. Wolak, Mitchell and Finkelhor (2003) describe a review of 2,577 arrests for Internet sex crimes against minors for a 12 month period starting July 1, 2000. They were able to identify three mutually exclusive types. Specifically,

  1. Internet crimes against an identified victim, which included sexual assaults and production of child pornography, which made up 39% of all arrests;
  2. Internet Solicitations to Undercover Law Enforcement posting as an adult with no identified victim, 25% of all arrests; and
  3. Possession, distribution, or trading of child pornography via the Internet, with no actual assault or solicitation of an undercover agent, 36% of all arrests.

They were able to further refine the first category where a real victim was involved. They found that 20% of all arrests involved cases where the offender used the Internet to initiate a relationship with the minor victim and 19% of all arrests were cases in which the offender was a family member or prior acquaintance of the minor. Wow…20% of all cases involved a real kid victim, who was unknown to the offender previously. As I recalled there was something about “stranger danger” risks, I decided to do some digging and look at risk assessment tools on this issue.

One of the most used sex offender risk assessment tools is the Static-1999, which has been updated to the Static-2002 (Static-2002-R). One caveat here. I am not trained in these instruments or certified to administer them. That said, I am aware that these assessment tools look at stranger and unrelated victims  as factors used in assessing risk.  As I have been reading for a number of years and think I have a handle on that skill, I took a brief look at the Coding Rules for Static-2002. There are some interesting rules on stranger victims as they relate to the Internet. Specifically, “A victim is considered a stranger if either the victim did not know the offender at least 24 hours before the initial offence and/or the offender did not know the victim for at least 24 hours before the initial offence. Victims contacted over the Internet are not normally considered strangers unless a meeting was planned for a time less than 24 hours after initial communication.” 

The whole purpose of giving points on this is that individuals whose victims are strangers have a greater risk. I suppose that offenders who target strangers do so because they might think they are less likely to get caught, as in it might be harder to identify them. But doesn’t attempting to reach a minor geographically located far from where an offender can be identified and who is unknown by the minor’s parents/guardians seem to fit that rationale? What about cases where the offender lies to the victim about who they are and the victim has no idea who they really are?  I mean there are cases where the offender portrays themselves as someone else online to lure the minor in and to get them to trust them.  How does this 24 hour rule play out if the offender is providing false information to the minor online? What if that offender brings weapons or tools to dispose of a body to the planned meeting?  Again, I am no way an expert in this but how are those intentions captured in these risk assessment?

Ironically, if an offender targets a male victim during an Internet sting case and it really is a cop, they get a point for a “male victim.”  (Any male victims is one of those scoring factors for risk). The reason is the offender “intended” to go after a male victim. Well doesn’t an offender who goes online to hook up with a minor in another state intend to meet a “stranger”?

Okay, let me take this risk assessment and Internet sex offenses in another direction. Specifically, Seto, Hanson, and Babchishin (2011) recently published an article reflecting their review of numerous studies. They found:

  1. Approximately 1 in 8 online sex offenders (12%) have an officially known contact sexual offense history at the time of their offense;
  2. Approximately one in two (55%) online offenders admitted to a contact sexual offense in the six studies that had self-report data ; and
  3. 4.6% of online offenders committed a new sexual offense of some kind during a 1.5- to 6-year follow-up . (2.0% committed a contact sexual offense and 3.4% committed a new child pornography offense.)

They concluded that …” that there may be a distinct subgroup of online-only offenders who pose relatively low risk of committing contact sexual offenses in the future.” (p. 125).  Did anyone notice they used the term online sex offender? Who are they talking about? Well, they provide the following explanation:

…online offenders and online offending to refer to sexual crimes that involve the use of Internet and related technologies. This would include possession or distribution of child pornography via the Internet, possession or distribution of other illegal pornography content, and use of the Internet to solicit minors for sexual purposes.”

They go on to note that most of the research is focused on child pornography offenders. This is kind of interesting considering the numbers of Internet sting arrests and those involving real victims of abuse noted earlier. Additionally, they specifically consider offenses where the Internet is merely used as a communication tool and is not central to the offense as “offline offending.” They cite as an example an uncle who uses e-mail to communicate with his victim niece. They conclude by noting:

The low recidivism rates of online offenders may be used by some readers to minimize the seriousness of the online crimes committed. We believe this would be a mistake. Child pornography is a serious crime because it contributes to the sexual exploitation of children by creating demand for content, it offends community standards and values, and it is viewed by many members of the public as a serious crime. It would also be a mistake to fail to differentiate online offenders by the risk they pose. Although the research on risk factors is limited, we believe that the risk factors for online offenders are likely to be the same risk factors found for offline offenders (i.e., sexual deviancy, antisocial orientation, and intimacy deficits). Until research suggests otherwise, we recommend that valid measures of these risk factors should be used by the police, courts, correctional systems, and clinicians to prioritize interventions for individuals involved in online sexual offenses.” (p. 140)

I think that their study is intriguing, particularly as it points to evidence of a lower risk for some NOT all online sex offenders. But more importantly, I also think it is a rally call for more study of cases involving Internet sex crimes beyond just child pornography. We now are seeing cases where sex offenders are using social networking sites to meet adult victims.  I wrote about this in The Perfect Storm: Cyberspace Criminality. We also are seeing a lot of sexting cases talked about in the media.  Are they really different than the Internet luring cases we have dealt with in the past? What I would really like to see is a tool that fully incorporates Internet/computer behavior in the process of risk assessment. Brake and Tanner (2007) have developed a two factor risk grid that may be of help in determining the appropriate monitoring level for sex offenders. This grid incorporates the offender’s Internet behavior history and their overall risk of acting out as based upon various sex assessment tool, one of which is the Static-99.  Their article is called Determining the Need for Internet Monitoring of Sex Offenders.  We need more work like theirs.

I might add someone better hurry up on this research. States are now being subject to law suits for passing Internet restrictions. Lousiana is now being sued by the ACLU over its recent enacted sex offender restrictions on social networking sites. There is also a conference this week to discuss removing pedophilia from the American Psychiatric Association’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Wow… so someone who abuses a child might not be considered having a mental health concern or “mad.”  I guess that just leaves the option that they are just “bad”… we know where bad folks go.  What does all this mean for the community corrections officers out there trying to supervise these cases?  Follow Seto, Hanson, and Babchishin advice about using current measures of risk for these cases. I would couple that advice with becoming knowledgeable about how offending and Internet behavior intersect.  For now I have to look for my cigar. Be safe out there!


Brake, S. and Tanner, Jim, Determining the Need for Internet Monitoring of Sex Offenders. Retrieved from

CNN News, ACLU Seeks to Block New Louisiana Sex Offender Law. Retrieved from

Implementing Evidence-Based Practice in Community Correcitons: The Principles of Effective Internvention, Retrieved from

Pnenix, A.; Doren, D.; Helmus, L.; Hanson, K. and Thornton D. Coding Rules for Static-2002. Retreived from

Rossomando, J. (2011, August 15) “Conference Aims to Normalize Pedophilia”, The Daily Caller
Retrieved from

Seto, M; Hanson, K. and Babchishin, K. (2010) “Contact Sexual Offending by Men With Online Sexual Offenses”  Sex Abuse 23: 124-145

Wolak, J.; Mitchell, K.; and Finkelhor, D. (2003) Internet Sex Crimes Against Minors: The Response of Law Enforcement, Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire. Retreived from




States Limit Social Networking Use: Good or Bad?

August 11th, 2011

On almost a daily basis there are media reports about sex offenders being caught online, either trying to pick up a “minor” or viewing child porn. They are also stories about a supervised sex offenders going to a social networking site and getting arrested for failure to maintain their registration. The intersection between sex offending and the Internet seems no longer to be merely a crossroad in the public’s mind but a five lane expressway of deviant behavior. As a result, legislatures appear to be taking a “shotgun” approach to the issue of sex offenders and the Internet. Consider the following:

  • The Massachusetts legislature is contemplating a bill to make registered sex offender’s email addresses and online Identifiers available to the public at large.
  • In June, Louisiana passed a law prohibiting offenders convicted of certain sex offenses against a minor from using social networking sites, although probation and parole officers and judges can make exceptions.
  • New York passed a law in 2008, which requires sex offenders disclose screen names and e-mail addresses during registration. This information is then forwarded to two dozen social networking sites which then block the offenders. Since its enactment it is credited with removing 24,000 sex offenders from Internet social networking sites nationwide.
  • North Carolina, in 2008 prohibited all sex offenders from social networking sites used by minors.
  • Illinois in 2009 enacted a prohibition against registered sex offenders using a social-networking service defined as an “Internet website containing profile web pages…that include the names or nicknames of such members, photographs…or any other personal or personally identifying information.”

Louisiana’s approach on it face, seems much more “tailored” than the other states mentioned.  New York, at least by the numbers noted, is being successful in removing sex offenders from social networking sites.  The questions though are these sex offenders staying off and are there less sex crimes being committed in New York with a social networking aspect as a result. I would like to know.

I get what these legislatures are trying to do. They want to make the Internet safe for kids. That is a very noble objective. I have no issue with supervised high risk sex offenders being prohibited from certain areas of the Internet.  I have also no issue with registered sex offenders, particularly those under supervision, being required to disclose their e-mail and Internet identifiers to law enforcement and their supervision officers. However, Massachusetts the wholesale expansion of these disclosures to the general public seems a bit problematic. 

If Massachusetts passes their law and provides for public disclosure, it will only impact sex offenders in their state. There is no way a Massachusetts resident could check a questionable e-mail on any of the other states sex offender registrations. Many states simply haven’t mandated disclosing Internet identifiers.  As of July 27, 2011, only 14 states, nine tribes and one territory have substantially implemented Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (SORNA).  Ironically, only Louisiana of the states noted above has substantially implemented SORNA. So even if Massachusetts does provide for public disclosure of sex offender’s Internet identifiers, there are countless registered sex offenders whose Internet information are not even in the database.

By the way, Massachusetts is bordered by states Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, none of which have substantially implemented SORNA. New York prohibits sex offenders on social networking sites but their disclosure of Internet identifiers is limited to social networking sites.  SORNA regulations explicitly prohibit public disclosure via the public registry websites (other “avenues” of public disclosure are however not prohibited).  In short, even if a state collects Internet identifiers, that does not translate into easy public access.

So Massachusetts I am having a bit of trouble understanding what public disclosure will do for you. Sure your parents would be able to check an e-mail against the registry to make sure it isn’t a local sex offender communicating with their son or daughter. But what about that sex offender in a border state or the non-complaint sex offender in your own state? If you enact your law it will be like giving your residents a Massachusetts telephone directory to look up a pizza delivery telephone number in California (hold the anchovies please). If I were in Massachusetts would I feel safer for my kids if this law gets passed? More to the point, would they be safer? Very doubtful. 

Oh Missouri don’t think I missed you in this legislative outing. Missouri is now restricting teachers from having contact with their students via social networking sites. One justification sited for this a Associated Press investigation that revealed sexual misconduct through social networking avenues were six times more prevalent than those from the priesthood scandals. Missouri is 11th worst state in the nation for teacher sexual misconduct with students. The law means teachers can’t communicate freely with their students online. Luckily, they didn’t prohibit teachers in the classroom too. Hopefully, the final regulations that result from this will be less than wholesale censorship, particularly with individuals who haven’t been charged with any law violations.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are risks associated with being online and we need to protect our citizens. Again, I have no issue with requiring sex offenders report all their Internet identifiers, which can be used by law enforcement and corrections. I also have no problem with limiting and monitoring offender’s Internet activities while under supervision. I would also like to see more Internet safety and ethics being taught in our schools. Probably the best way to make your kids safe is to be involved and know what they are doing both in the real world and in cyberspace. I also like it when a state like Louisiana, provides an exception to one of their new laws dealing with these restrictions. This allows us in the “real world” to tailor are risk management efforts.

I have never been fond of a one size fits all approach. Tailor the law to the need. Don’t make it too big or too small. Our laws need to be based upon some rational basis beyond a good “sound bite” on the television news. I know I am asking a lot and I am going to ask for more. Before a legislature passes one of these feel goods laws consider how it is going to be enforced and provide training and resources to get it enforced right. For now one last request. Where is that cigar I put down?

Legal Updates, Supervision

Sex Offenders: 1 Supervision Officers: 0

August 4th, 2011

Recently a parole officer contacted me for guidance on a sex offender he is supervising. The sex offender was prohibited from being on any social networking site (SNS) and he suspected he was accessing at least one. He had seized the computer and was asking for advice.  At that point I asked the officer if he had checked any SNS to see if the offender was online.

You guessed it. It appears the sex offender is not the only one prohibited from accessing a SNS. The supervision officer was prohibited by his agency’s policy and system from accessing any SNS from his work computer. In fact, his agency’s computer usage policy was so restrictive he couldn’t even download a copy of Field Search, a program initially developed by National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) to assist probation and parole officers in sex offender management.

Unfortunately I can’t say this a new problem. I have heard it expressed countless times by other officers from other agencies all over the country. We can’t access SNS or other Internet areas because our system/policy prohibits it. There is a fear that officers will start updating their SNS or worse visiting pornography and not do their work. I understand the concern that employees may waste time online. After all monitoring software companies stress the amount of hours wasted by employees surfing the net on the clock.

The problem is supervision officers need to know what offenders are doing online. It is part of the job in the 21st Century.  Sex offenders are online and on SNS. Gang members are also using SNS to communicate with one another. This blog has noted how offenders are using Twitter to discuss their officers and supervision. Can anyone imagine an agency prohibiting its officers from going in the field because of fear they might goof-off or do something in appropriate?

It is funny in some respects if we consider that some correction agencies are looking to expand inmate access to e-mail and possibly the Internet. But when it comes to the parole officer getting access…nope we can’t trust you to do your job if you have online access. So we can trust inmates but not officers? Wow what a thought!

The second reasoning for limiting access is an IT based argument. Specifically, we can’t allow officers to go anywhere they want because they are liable to download a virus or worm. They also don’t want employees making changes to the system by installing software. That is probably why the officer I noted above couldn’t download Field Search. I get there are problems with downloading or going to locations without proper precautions. There is stuff out there will install itself even if you don’t click on something and then your machine is infected.

But lets take this argument into the brick and mortar world a bit. Would we prohibit officers from driving agency vehicles into some of the high crime areas out there to do their supervision activities? I mean the agency car might get stolen or damaged. And we can’t have officers speeding in those cars because they might get in an accident, so lets put controls so they can’t go faster than 45 mph without approval. In some correctional agencies those kinds of controls and prohibitions are being put on computers and the Internet. They are more concerned about protecting the agency property than performing the agency mission, which is protecting the community.

Our jobs are inherently risky. Officers take a chance every time they put on a gun and a vest and go out in the field to supervise offenders. That is our job. We don’t ignore risk but we don’t run from it. The same approach must go for computers and the Internet. Allow officers to do their jobs when it involves the Internet or computers. Protect the system but don’t lock it down so tight that it is useless. By all means keep anti-virus and firewalls working and make sure updates are made when needed. But make appropriate exceptions for officers to do their jobs. If needed isolate those machines from the rest of the agency system so they can be used to perform online supervision activities.

Officers and mangers also need educated about what the risks are and what to avoid. Officers and managements need to talk with IT staff about what is needed. Risk must be managed so that officers can still do their job. “No way” has got to be replaced with how can we minimize the computer/system risk and protect the community. After all can we really put more value on a desk top computer or even a whole network (both of which can be restored or replaced) over community protection? Do we really want to protect one lap top with WiFi Internet access over the life of one child abducted and killed by a supervised sex offender they met online? Lets put the public over the computers we use. Otherwise the offenders will win. By the way, that sex offender I mentioned is online, while his officer’s agency hasn’t even started the game. Gee I hope those agencies aren’t blocking officers access to the Three C’s! Time for a cigar on that thought.

Internet Safety, Supervision

The Perfect Storm: Cyberspace Criminality

May 21st, 2011

Recently made headlines in a bad way. It became the subject of a lawsuit for not properly screening sex offenders from its dating service. You guessed it. One sex offender hooked up online with a female and met and raped her in the real world. has promised to ratchet up its screening protocols. This past week Connecticut moved legislation forward that would require Internet dating sites which charge fees to provide customers safety tips and advice  to make both online and offline dating safer. If enacted Connecticut will join New York and New Jersey who have passed similar legislation.

Within the last week Craigslist has again made the news as a virtual hunting grounds for offenders. Fours suspects (two reportedly gang members) posed as sellers on Craigslist and robbed an 18-year old and his girlfriend and killed the man when he attempted to follow them.  We also have an apparent serial killer dubbed the “Craigslist Ripper“, using the service to find victims and dumping the bodies in a secluded section of Long Island beach over the past several months. The blog has discussed previously the issues regarding sex offenders on social networking sites, notablly Facebook. However, make no mistake not all the victimization occurring online is due to sex offenders. An article in the Wall Street Journal  provided information on a 45 year old senior manager who was scammed out of $5,000 by a “female” he meet on eHarmony.

Why are these acts occurring online in apparent increasing frequency? Well part of it may be the media just highlighting these serious online crimes, which makes it seem like there is more of them. However, the truth is more and more of the public is turning to the Internet for social interaction. The more interaction online the more victims come into contact with motivated offenders. This is exactly what I believe Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson were suggesting with their Routine Activities Theory. Specifically, a crime occurs when the following three factors converge in time and space: 1) A motivated offender; 2) A suitable target; and 3) The absence of a capable guardian. I think the argument can be made that there really is an “absence of a capable guardian” online, so in a real sense we are seeing a perfect storm of criminality in cyberspace.

We also can’t ignore that the computer and the Internet are excellent tools for criminal behavior. The Internet provides offenders with a sense of anonymity. They can communicate with whomever they want with little fear that someone will discover or identify them. Additionally, they can tailor their appearance to whatever is needed to get at their victim. They can be rich, educated, someone from the opposite sex, single, more attractive, less overweight, or similar in age to the victim, etc. These dating sites also are in many respects a sexual predators ‘ preference catalog. Most group individuals by age, weight, hair and eye color, height, location, etc. I have even seen some sites provide shoe sizes. What more would a crazed sexual predator want?

Additionally, they can literally groom multiple victims not only over an extended period of time but simultaneously. Such activity would prove harder and riskier to accomplish in the real world. Finally, particularly, with the scams and frauds, offenders oftentimes are not even in the same jurisdiction or country of the victim. This makes investigation and prosecution that much harder and dare I say the offenders know it.

So what can be done about this? Well for starters we need more Internet safety presentations, starting at a young age and going all the way up to the nursing homes. These presentations have to stress that just because someone types it on a screen or shows you a picture doesn’t really make is so. Additionally, such presentations should stress the appropriate personal details to share and under what circumstances.

The private sector in cyberspace has also got to step up to plate. In the real world no business would last long that did not provide proper lighting in the customer parking lots, routine mall security, etc. The private sector, particularly those involved in social/dating sites, have got to come up with techniques for providing those same rudimentary security measures that we all expect in the real world. If they refuse to do so their sites may become as popular as a store with no night lighting located in a high crime area.

Finally, law enforcement has got to be more involved in the online community and not just retroactively but proactively. This is going to be hard with the current budgetary climate. But if it doesn’t happen the Old West will seem like a very mild metaphor for describing the lawlessness of 21st Century cyberspace. 

For community corrections officers we must be aware what our offenders are doing online, particularly if their crimes were predatory in nature. I can see no earthly reason why a supervised sex offender should be given free rein to frequent whatever social networking he or she chooses. Even the sites which only allow adults can be a problem for sex offenders who victimize children. Most ask if the person has children. How hard would it be for a pedophile to locate a single lonely mother with minor children to victimize? Offenders who are con artists also pose a risk in this environment where victims are so trusting. Ask questions about what your offenders are doing online before you get that call from the police department about them.

 Many of these issues I am sure are going to be discussed at HTCIA’s 2011 Annual Training Conference and Expo. The HTCIA is celebrating 25 years as a participant and leader in the High Technology world this year. Tell Wojo, Jimmie, Duncan, and Tom I sent you. Now where is that cigar I had? Be safe out there.

Internet Safety, Supervision

Online Gambling: Offenders Trying to Roll “7′s” in a Binary World

April 2nd, 2011

Legalizing gambling is a topic that seems to ebb and flow with the times. In the not too distant past legal casino gambling in the United States was limited to Las Vegas and later Atlantic City. We then saw some growth with American Indian gaming. Additionally states, most recently Ohio, amended statutes to allow casinos within certain jurisdictional areas. Within the last few months online gambling legalization was suggested as a possible method to generate needed tax revenue. Why should community corrections officers be concerned about gambling issues, including the online variety? If it is legal what is the big deal? Let me “ante” into the pot to get this discussion going!

Internet gambling has nearly doubled every year since 1997 – in 2001 it exceed $2 billion . A simple Google search for the term “online gambling sites”, generates over 6,00,000 results. Currently, in the United States it is illegal to:

  1. Place cyberbets on sporting events or in virtual card games;
  2. Transfer money electronically for gambling; and
  3. Place wagers in offshore Internet casinos, even if one lives in the U.S.

Okay, Einstein, it is all over the Internet but it is currently illegal in the states. So what? That may change and even if it doesn’t offenders can go to casinos and legally gamble (provided it is not prohibited by their supervision conditions). Why should I worry about? Time to” raise” the bet as it were. Consider these articles:

Lahn and Grabosky (2003) found that 34.3% of correctional survey participants had some form of gambling problem. The most serious current offenses for these problem gamblers were property crime (37.1%), violent crimes (28.6%) and traffic offenses such as drunk driving (17.1%). Additionally, 25.7% of problem gamblers disclosed that their gambling had contributed to their criminal behavior. Finally, 45.7% of problem gamblers said that they had stolen or obtained money illegally to gamble or to pay off accrued gambling debts.

Williams, Royston, and Hagen (2005) reviewed scientific studies on offender gambling and found the studies provided evidence that offenders have the highest overall rate of problem gambling of any known population. Their review found as many as one-third of offenders met the criteria for problem gambling and approximately 50% of crimes committed by these individuals were to support gambling.

Williams (2010) observes “Correctional professionals should be aware of the possibilities in which gambling may develop among offenders, particularly at a time when legalized gambling opportunities are increasing.” 

Okay, so you raise that community risk issue again. Big deal! Community correction officers just have to keep a better eye out for offenders that may have such gambling difficulties and prohibit them from going to locations where legal gambling is allowed. You know, put them on the problem gambling watch list at the local casinos. No more travel permits to Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Perform traditional field work to know what supervised offenders are doing. Again, Mr. Cigar Lover you got nothing but smoke. You are bluffing!

Time to show you my hold cards, collectively called “online gambling.” I got two studies, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (2002) and CyberPsychology & Behavior (2009), which suggest that people who gamble on the Internet are likely to have a gambling problem. The later study noted … “that the medium of the Internet may be more likely to contribute to problem gambling than gambling in offline environments.”

Online gambling addictions much like other problem online behaviors can be easily concealed from significant others and community corrections officers. Now the problem gambler can bypass their supervision officer’s brick and mortar techniques and go to cyberspace. They don’t need to be careful about going into a casino or have ready explanations why they weren’t home when their officer happened  to stop by for a surprise visit. With legalization of online gambling, an offender with a problem just needs a mobile phone. Even an offender on home detention with global positioning can gamble their way into trouble. Casino watch lists for problem gamblers will do little to stop an offender with an Internet connection from placing their bets. The only thing that may slow them down is their credit card…. or their next victim’s card limit. There is also the issue of virtual gambling in virtual communities. Even now criminal elements are finding new and novel ways to transfer “virtual money” into real world currency and commit fraud. Time to “fold”? Nope, I got some solutions to help you address this challenging issue. Here they are:

  1. Know how a gambling problem may have contributed to an offender’s involvement in the criminal justice process. Be aware that gambling is no longer limited to just the brick and mortar casinos but is now in cyberspace.
  2. Be aware gambling online can involved traditional exchanges debits/credits on credit cards bank statement
  3. Look for signs that your offender is having unexplained difficulties meeting basic needs (food, lodging, clothing, etc.) and/or addressing family obligations and/or  restitution/fine/supervision fees. Maybe funds are being diverted to gamble or pay a gambling debt. Request offenders provide financial information as needed.
  4. Periodically check credit card and bank statements for charges that might be associated with gambling. Require offenders explain and document large cash withdrawals and/or advances.
  5. Periodically require a credit report to insure you are looking at all your offender’s credit balances.
  6. For individuals with a gambling problem make sure that their treatment providers are aware how gambling can occur in cyberspace, which can be much harder to detect.
  7. If your gambling problem offender is spending a lot of time online explore what they are doing. For instance are they truly job searching or placing bets? Ask  the obvious, i.e., are you gambling online?  But also explore if they are involved in virtual communities online and what are they doing in those communities.
  8. Depending upon the circumstances consider searching or monitoring of computers to find online activity related to gambling. For problem gamblers with Internet access consider installing software that prevents access to gambling sites.

Community corrections officers are increasing called upon to address problem behaviors,  particularly when those issues may have resulted in criminal acts. Research has identified gambling as an area of concern in offender populations.  Officers must be prepared to address this concern, which can manifest itself either at the roulette table in Las Vegas or online in the offender’s home.  Cyberspace puts a new dimension to addressing problem behaviors like gambling. However, officers do have cards to play. They just have to welling to get into the game and be effective change agents.  Take care and be safe out there! Now where is that cigar I had…


Center for Counseling & Health Resources, Inc. Gambling Facts and Statistics Retrieved from

Federal Bureau of Investigations. (2007) Online Gambling: Don’t Roll The Dice Retreived from

Griffiths, M., Wardle, H, Orford, J. Sproston, K. and Erens B.(2009) “Sociodemographic Correlates of Internet Gambling: Findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey” CyberPsychology & Behavior. 12(2) Retrieved from

Ladd, G. and Petry, N. (2002) “Disordered Gambling Among University-Based Medical and Dental Patients: A Focus on Internet Gambling”.  Psychology of Addictive Behaviors Vol. 16, No. 1, 76–79 Retrieved from

Lahn, J. and Grabosky P. (2003). “Gambling and Clients of ACT Corrections”. Centre for Gambling Research. Regulatory Institutions Network. Australian National University. Retrieved from

Sullivan, K. (2008) “Virtual Money Laundering and Fraud” Retrieved from

Williams, DJ. (2010). “Offender Gambling Behavior and Risk during the Re-entry Process”. Los Angeles, CA: Leisure and Deviance Education/Research Services (LEADERS). Retrieved from

Williams, R. J., Royston, J., & Hagen, B. F. (2005). “Gambling and Problem Gambling within Forensic Populations: A Review of the Literature”. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 32, 665-689 Retrieved from


Digital Sticks and Stones

March 26th, 2011

Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month are in April. Additionally, April 10-16, 2011 is National Crime Victims Rights Week. What do these events have to do with cyberspace? I mean, cyberspace isn’t real right? No one gets harmed by 1’s and 0’s. Sure there are hackers and virus writers that harm or steal data but that has nothing to do with this month’s “real victims.” Oh contraire mon amie! Let me show you how what happens in cyberspace can have real world consequences.

Child Porn

One of the things that really fries my grits is the comment by some that child porn is just “dirty pictures” and the offenders who posses digital images are somehow removed from the victimization process because they didn’t produce the images. I somethings also hear the comment that these images mainly involve 16-17 year olds or are almost 18 years old, and it is “borderline illegal.” Moose hockey!

According to to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children the content of these illegal images “varies from exposure of genitalia to graphic sexual abuse, such as penetration by objects, anal penetration, and bestiality.” Additionally, of the “child pornography victims identified by law enforcement, 42% appear to be pubescent, 52% appear to be prepubescent, and 6% appear to be infants or toddlers.”

Beyond the creation trauma, what kind of harm are we talking about with these images? Digital images don’t degrade over time. Electronic media is the closest thing mankind has come to creating something that is permanent. These images can be traded hundreds and thousands of times and the look of fear, shock, and trauma on the victim’s face is just as fresh as the day it was taken. The images, transmitted all over the world, can’t just be deleted or recalled. They are viewed by all manner of sex offender, from the dabbler (curious offender) to the hard core preferential offender. They are even used by some offenders to entice new children. The children in these pictures are repeatedly victimized a little bit more each time these images are viewed, traded, and distributed. The phrase “dirty pictures”, sometimes used by offenders, attorney, and even judges, to describe these images minimizes the harm done to these children. It is like equating a tsunami with the splash one creates in a mud puddle.

Some federal courts are wrestling with putting a dollar figure for restitution orders in convictions involving child pornography possession. If these restitution orders stand,  maybe, just maybe, potential offenders will realize that possessing images of a children being brutalized can have a negative financial impact on them. It is a small measure of comfort to the victims in these images.

Internet Harassment

Approximately 3.4 million people are stalked annually and 1 in 4 victims reported the offense included a cyberstalking act. (Baum, Catalano, and Rand, 2009) Additionally, law enforcement estimates that electronic communications are a factor in 20% to 40% of all stalking cases. So the lines between on-line and off-line stalking frequently overlap. The effects of cyberstalking and more recently cyberbullying are starting to be viewed as more than just a cyberspace event. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, cyberstalking victims … “often psychological trauma, as well as physical and emotional reactions as a result of their victimization. Some of these effects may include: changes in sleeping and eating patterns; nightmares; hypervigilance; anxiety; helplessness; fear for safety; shock and disbelief.”

Hinduja and Patchin found … “that experience with traditional bullying and cyberbullying is associated with an increase in suicidal ideation among our sample, and that both seem to be related to the outcome measure in similar ways.” They further note that the data does not support a cause and effect type relation, but that these experiences with bullying and cyberbullying may tend … “to exacerbate instability and hopelessness in the minds of adolescents already struggling with stressful life circumstances.”


I hope that during the upcoming month we realize that a crime, regardless of whether it occurs online or off-line, profoundly and negatively effects victims. We should not paint with broad minimization strokes simply because the crime occurred in the digital age. Those “1’s and 0’s” can sometimes be as harmful as “sticks and stones.”


1999 Report on Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry, a Report from the Attorney General to the Vice President, August 1999

Baum, Katrina; Catalano, Shannan; and Rand, Michael, (2009). Stalking Victimization in the United States. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Hinduja, Sameer and Patchin, Justin W. ‘Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide’, Archives of Suicide Research, 14:3, 206 – 221

Lozano, Juan, “Legal experts: Ruling benefits child porn victims” Associated Press, March 25, 2011

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,  Child Pornography Fact Sheet

The National Center for Victims of Crime, Cyberstalking

Internet Safety, Legal Updates, Supervision

Update: Utah’s Registered Sex Offenders Still Must Disclose Internet Identifiers

March 18th, 2011

Not too long ago an individual purportedly a plaintiff in Doe v. Shurtleff, Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit 2010  was arguing to anyone that would listen that requiring registered sex offenders to disclose Internet identifiers as part of their registration was a violation their rights, most notably the First Amendment rights.  He was for a while a frequent critic of issues reported here regarding sex offender registeration and cyber-supervision suggestions.

As background to this discussion, on July 2, 2008, registration regulations implemented by the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking required by the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 took effect.  These regulations mandated that Internet identifiers, such as e-mail addresses and profiles, were to be disclosed by sex offenders as part of the federal registration requirements. Later, the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act of 2008, also known as the KIDS Act of 2008, further solidified the disclosure of Internet identifiers as a Congressional mandate. 

The history on John Doe’s case is he brought suit  regarding the requirement to have Internet identifiers disclosed as part of sex offender registration. Initially, this information was available to the public. However, Utah amended its registration law, reflecting Internet identifiers of registered sex offenders would no longer be public. The district court removed its injunction and upheld the law. John Doe then appealed the case to the 10th Circuit.

The 1oth Circuit upheld the district court decision, allowing Internet identifiers as part of Utah’s sex offender registry.  John Doe also appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of the United States (Case No. 10-957) by filing a  Petition for a Writ of Certiorari on January 24, 2011.  On March  7, 2011, the Supreme Court denied the petition.

“The effect of denial of certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court is often debated.  The decision of the Court of Appeals is unaffected.   However, the decision does not necessarily reflect agreement with the decision of the lower court.”

In layman’s terms, John Doe will now have to register all his Internet identifiers as a resident of Utah (he claimed to be given a “temporary pass” by the Attorney General, pending the decision in this case).  The 10th Circuit and district courts’ decision stands.

I should note right after the 10th Circuit ruling was made the federal regulations were changed on January 11, 2011,  to reflect Internet Identifers were to be excempt from the public registeration websites.  States still working on getting compliant with the federal law would be well advised to make sure Internet idenifiter are required but not made publicly  available.

Legal Updates, Supervision

The 21st Century Substance Abuser: Cyberspace Intersecting with the Drug Culture

March 12th, 2011

On March 1, 2011, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) exercised its emergency scheduling authority to control five chemicals (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol). These five chemicals are used to make what is referred to as “fake pot” products.  The resulting smoke-able herbal product brands, with such names as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn”  were sold on the Internet and a variety of locations as legal substitutes for getting a a marijuana-like high.  The marketing and sale of these marijuana substitutes online represents just one way drug use is being impacted by the Internet. Community correctional professionals now need to become familiar with the cyberspace’s role in substance abuse behavior to be effective change agents.

The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) observed in 2002 that drug use facilitation appeared to be the most common drug-related activity on the Internet. NDIC categorized this facilitation as:

  • Use: Information is readily available online about the supposedly positive effects of drug use at the same time downplaying the negative effects.  Information is also presented on how to use readily available products, such as cold medications, in order to get “high.”  The sites also frequently explain drug use terminology and slang, thereby acclimating individuals to drug culture.
  • Production:  Some Internet sites provide recipes for individuals to produce their own cocktails of abuse.  These sites often times include not only the ingredients but where to obtain them as well as the how to get the production equipment. Unfortunately, misinformation is not unusual, which can lead to serious injury/illness or death.
  • Sale: Individuals can easily search online for drug suppliers or as noted above drug substitutes. Sites marketing drugs with no prescription needed are not usual.

Many of NDIC observations seem valid even today. A small 2005 study found 12 patients (9 male, 3 female) 100% reported that Internet-based information had affected the ways in which they had used psychoactive substances. Additionally, eight of these respondents described adopting behaviors intended to minimize the risks associated with psychoactive substance use. The respondents also reported changes in the use of a wide variety of illicit substances as well as over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals based upon their online research. 

Leinwand (2007) also cited a study that found 10 million online messages written by teens in 2006 showed they regularly chat about drinking alcohol, smoking pot, partying and hooking up. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also concluded in 2010 that “Social networking sites provide information from teens on their personal experiences on how to get high with prescription drugs.”  Lyon (2008) also observed that the Internet is also ripe with methods for users to defeat drug tests, some “downright dangerous.” 

 Actually obtaining illegal drugs online appears a smaller part of the overall cyber-effect on drug use.  A U.S. government study noted that only .04% of persons aged 12 or older in 2008-2009 who used pain relievers nonmedically in the past 12 months obtained their drugs online.  Nevertheless,  a 2010 United Nations report reflected that India has… “emerged as a major source for illegal drugs trade on the Internet with narcotics smuggled via the country’s courier and postal services to the rest of the world.”  The report further noted that illegal India firms, disguised as software companies, were allowing transactions of banned pharmaceutical preparations to be made over the Internet.

What does all this mean for the community corrections professional charged with supervising offenders with substance abuse issues?  Consider the following suggestions:

  1. Do your own Internet research to see what is being discussed about use, production, and/or sale so you are better informed and know what to look for on your caseload;
  2. Request treatment providers explore with your offenders the role cyberspace plays in their substance abuse history, noting the areas cited by the NDIC (Use, Production, Sale); 
  3. Stress, particularly for juvenile offenders, that the Internet can be a wealth of information, but not all of it is reliable. Believing information posted by some anonymous person on the effects of this drug or that or how to  “safely” produce some mind alerting drug is fool-hearty.  (Have a ready supply of news articles of the tragic results to back this up.);
  4. Periodically request credit card and bank statements to check for online drug purchases, particularly for offenders whose drugs of choice were prescription medications;
  5. Periodically check social networking profiles and do searches to see who offenders are associating with and what is being posted for evidence of drug use and/or efforts to defeat drug testing;
  6. Depending upon the circumstances consider searching or monitoring of computers, including mobile devices, to find online activity related to obtaining, producing, and/or selling drugs and defeating drug use monitoring efforts.

Over 25 years ago when my professional career started a drug user might steal a computer to later sell it to buy drugs. Now, thanks in large part to the Internet, computers are  being used in a different manner to facilitate drug use. Community corrections officers must learn to adapt to the Information Age if they hope to keep up with the 21st Century substance abuser. 


Boyer, E.; Shannon, M and Hibbert, P. “The Internet and Psychoactive Substance Use Among Innovative Drug Users” Pediatrics 2005, 115, 302-305 Retrieved from

Drug Enforcement Adminstration (DEA) “Chemicals Used in “Spice” and “K2″ Type Products Now Under Federal Control and Regulation”,  Press Release Retrieved from 

Drug Enforcement Adminstration (DEA) Hidden Dangers in Your Home,  (2010), Retrieved from  

Leinwand,D. “Teens use Internet to Share Drug Stories”, (2007) USA Today, Retrieved from

Lindsay, L. “Ways Teens Might Cheat on Drug Tests and How to Catch Them”, (2008) US News, Retrieved from

National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) Information Bulletin: Drugs, Youth, and the Internet(2002), Retrieved from

Reuters, “Illegal Drug Trade via Internet on the Rise in India” (2010) Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings . Retrieved from


A Primer on Criminal Association in Cyberspace

March 8th, 2011

A prohibition against any criminal associations is a standard condition common in community supervision (probation, parole, supervised release, etc.).  John Augustus, father of probation … “manifested an insistence on separating offenders from their criminal acquaintances.” (Panzarella, 2002, pg. 40). The basic premize has been that when offenders associate with another it frequently leads to more serious noncompliance, such as drug use or other criminal conduct. What exactly is criminal association? One source  defines it as:

… any planned, prolonged, or repeated, personal, telephonic, or written contact with a person having a felony record, or engaging in criminal activity, and/or if you had knowledge of, or should have had knowledge of his, or her felony conviction or the criminal activity in which they were engaged during the times of your association. Incidental contact is not considered association.”

Association on the job or during treatment is not usually considered criminal association. It is hard to ascertain how many supervision cases are actually revoked for the technical violation of criminal association. One study  found that approximately 35 percent of all the recorded parole violations were for technical violations and two-thirds of these cases were from absconding supervision. Another study found 9 percent of probation cases were revoked for technical violations. However, neither of these studies provided specifics indicating what percentage of the technical violations were criminal association in nature. It would seem to make sense that criminal associations would be related to new law violations in some manner. If this is accurate, they may be more present in the cases where revocation occurred as a result of a new conviction than solely revocations due to technical violations alone.

Prior to the advent of social networking sites (SNS) criminal association violations were sometimes detected during a chance home visit or possibly a “prison letter” found in an offender’s possession. Unfortunately they too often were first discovered in a police report of all individuals arrested with an offender during a new crime.

However, offenders are now associating with one another in increasing numbers on social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook®. This trend raises the interesting possibility that supervision officers can be more proactive in detecting criminal associations as opposed to waiting for an offender’s arrest report to identify their problematic associates. What kind of numbers are we talking about? One recent case found almost 15% of one offender’s total “friends” were individuals they had meet while serving time in prison. This may be an extreme case but even one criminal association may be enough to get an offender into noncompliance.

SNS are used by offenders in much the same way as the general public, i.e. to communicate and maintain contact with friends and relatives and to make new contacts who share similar interests. However, when supervised offenders have contact with other offenders via a SNS, they are violating their association condition. What kind of trouble are we talking about? Supervised offenders have been posted on their Facebook® wall such antisocial activities as:

  • Bragging about criminal conduct, including showing images of drug use and gun possession;
  • Warning other associations about police investigations;
  • Threatening alleged informants and witnesses

It is ironic that many of these activities are posted in public areas of an offender’s profile. However, most SNS also allow individuals to send private messages to one another. With mobile phones, a SNS presence can provide immediate access to one’s criminal associates. The contact is not only immediate but can also be simultaneous with all of one’s fellow felons. If they are publicizing such activities to the world we can only surmise what are they communicating privately among themselves.

Supervised offenders cannot be prohibited from using SNS unless their conditions, state law, or the SNS precludes their use. (See  Facebook: Sex Offenders Need Not Apply!) However, officers can provide clear instructions to all supervised offenders that criminal associations in cyberspace are also not permitted.  Supervision officers should also routinely request e-mail addresses and SNS information from offenders. With this information officers should also conduct what Blalock, refers to as “virtual home visits”, to ascertain what supervised offenders are posting as well as whom they have reflected as associates. Don’t do this with your personal SNS profile for this will provide your private information to your offender. You should have a SNS profile set up specifically for this purpose. Once a profile is located officers should document its condition in some manner. These profiles can be changed very easily and document and preservation is a must. One excellent program for this purpose is WebCase®.

Supervision officers should also periodically check popular SNS, such as Facebook® to see if their offenders have an undisclosed profile. Searches by emails, names, and alias, can frequently detect these. If these searches fail try searches of their close family/friends, to see if the offender’s profile is associated with them, and work backward.

Many individuals will have portions of their profile set to private but most will neglect the listing of their friends/contacts, which is what you are interested in when checking for criminal associations. Many SNS have search features that allow users to search for their own friends/contacts on another individual’s profile. This feature can be used to check for criminal associations among an offender’s friends/contacts. Consider the following:

  1. Check first for co-conspirators on past and current offenses;
  2. Next check for friends/contacts that are clearly not an offender’s relatives;
  3. Check for friends/contacts that are flashing gang signs or displaying similar antisocial conduct.
  4. Check for friends/contacts that appear out of place which might indicate they meet outside of the offender’s neighborhood, such as in correctional setting

Take the identified names and see if they match information in local or regional criminal records databases.. If so, and depending upon the SNS, determine when they were added and what posts where made by them. Additionally, identify additional names that you may have missed based upon your first inquiry. For instance, sometimes an offender will add several of their inmate friends at the same time. You might have detected one but missed others that were added at the same time.  Also check the criminal associations you have identified and see if similar friends/associates are listed on their profile. For example, your offender has John S and Tom J who you have identified as a felon. You look at John S and Tom J and find Billy W as a friend/contact of both. Billy W is also an friend of your offender. You didn’t initially identify Billy W but check him now and you might find he also has a criminal record.

By now some of you are probably thinking this is great if their profile is very public. What about those who have their profile set to private? Well, most supervision conditions provide you the method to get into those private profiles. For instance, supervision conditions frequently provide that an offender will allow their officer to visit them at home or “elsewhere”. In this case “elsewhere” is their SNS profile. Another condition is follow your officer’s instructions. Using your investigation profile, request they allow you as a “friend.” Once accepted examine their site briefly, including their friends/contacts and remove yourself as a “friend.” Like a traditional home visit your are not interested in being a permanent fixture in their virtual space.

If they refuse you may need to seek more intrusive methods to find out what is going on. Be forewarned though. Some offenders when directed to provide access merely close their SNS profile. Without proper legal paperwork (frequently a search warrant) you can’t get at the closed account. However, they have violated your directive, which can result in a sanction and you have at least temporarily closed down a possible criminal association venue.

After you have found several criminal associations on your offender’s profile, time to confront them about these as well as to ascertain how they came to know the other contacts listed on their profile (just in case you missed some).  Once you have proven criminal associations you have to take corrective action as well. The action may be a verbal or written reprimand with direction to purge their SNS profile of the unapproved associations. However, you may be seeking a sanction or even a revocation if you find more serious violations during your examination of the SNS.

This was just a brief overview of how to start addressing cyberspace in one’s community supervision practices. Professional readers are strongly encouraged to seek out training on conducting these investigations. Again, one of my favorites for this is the High Technology Crime Association .  I understand that Wojo, Jimmie and the gang are working hard to have a hell of a training conference at Indian Wells, CA,  September 12-14, 2011. It looks like they are going to have a lab or two by Vere Software, makers of WebCase®.  I am sure there will be plenty of training on social networking investigations as well as computer forensic topics. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that Vere Software also has a free webinar series concerning online investigations. Don’t forget to tell Wojo, Jimmie and Todd (at Vere Software) I sent you!

With proper training and practice the time needed to check an offender’s SNS profile will decrease. It clearly makes sense for all community corrections agencies to take the proactive step of checking supervised offender’s SNS profiles as opposed to waiting until an offender associated themselves into a new criminal conviction.  Trust me, you don’t have to be a cigar smoking fool like me to learn this stuff!


Blalock, Shannon F. (2007) Virtual Home Visits: A Guide to Using Social Networking Sites to Assist with Offender Supervision and Fugitive Apprehension, District 1, Division of Probation and Parole Kentucky Department of Corrections.

Bonczar, T. and Glaze L., “Probation and Parole in the United States, 2006” (Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin NCJ 220218) (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2007)

Grattet, R.; Petersila, J.; Lin, J.; and Beckman, M., “Parole Violations and Revocations in California: Analysis and Suggestions for Action” Federal Probation, Vol. 73, No. 1 (June 2009) Retrieved from

Orientation to Supervision United States Probation Office, Eastern District of Missouri, Retrieved from

Panzarella, R.  “Theory and Practice of Probation in the Report of John Augustus” Federal Probation, Vol. 66, No. 3, (December 2002), pg. 38-42 Retrieved from


Sex Offenders and Gaming Devices: What is the Risk?

February 18th, 2011

From time to time supervision officers ask me about gaming consoles and sex offenders. There were some recent incidents that compelled me to write about it today. The first involved a law enforcement request seeking assistance in analyzing a gaming console taken by a parole officer from a sex offender. The parole officer was concerned about what the offender had done with it. The next was a recently decided case striking a gaming restriction for a sex offender. So why all the concern about gaming? Yes they are computers and yes they can connect to the Internet. But can sex offenders use them to have contact with minors and/or access pornography? Let’s take a look!

Contact with Minors

A 2008 Pew Research study noted “For most teens, gaming is a social activity and a major component of their overall social experience.” The study provided some stats on this. Specifically:

  • 97% of teens ages 12-17 play computer, web, portable, or console games
  • 86% of teens play on a console like the Xbox, PlayStation, or Wii.

Okay, so kids are playing games on computers, big surprise right? So what if they play video games. It is not like they are going online to play them. Oh contraire mon amie! The same study noted:

  • Nearly 3 in 5 teens (59%) play games in multiple ways ( with others in the same room, with others online, or alone).
  • Fifteen percent of these teens play most often with those they are connected to via the internet.
  • Of the teens who play games online with others, 27% of teens play online games with people they first met online and 23% of teens play with both friends and family known in the offline world and people they met online.

You got real numbers on that? Yeah…. here is some for you… two of the top gaming consoles in 2008 had 10 million and 9.8 million subscribers respectively. So is it possible for a sex offender to have contact with a minor through a gaming console? Does Bugs Bunny like carrots and do I like cigars?

Accessing Pornography

Okay, so a sex offender can play a game with a minor. So what? It’s not like they can forward them pornography or send them a picture of themselves? Well, according to the 2011 Video GameConsoles Review, 8 of the 9 gaming consoles have web browsing capabilities and 5 of 9 can accommodate a webcam. The Review further notes:

Put the board games aside. With video games, you can play with friends, family and other video gamers across the world without ever leaving your living room. Best of all, with enhanced multimedia functions like video and music support and web browsing, you have a powerful all-in-one device.

Okay, so the gaming consoles sound like something a supervision officer should be concerned about when dealing with a sex offender. What about those portable gaming devices? What the heck can they do? Consider this from CNN article Internet Connectivity Key to New Portable Game Devices :

Whereas Nintendo’s 3DS is designed to connect directly with other systems in its vicinity and constantly search the airwaves for nearby Wi-Fi hotspots, Sony’s upcoming system takes a page out of the smartphone and tablet playbook. Sony’s successor to the PlayStation Portable will have a 3G Internet connectivity key to new portable game devices wireless data chip inside. Users will be able to connect to a cellular network to download game files, talk to friends or challenge them in games.

Alrighty then, we know these devices can be used to access the Internet and minors use them. So what.. That doesn’t mean there are any sex offenders who have used gaming to get at kids. Well, the Sexual Assault Response Center notes… “not every video game player is a sex offender; but some sex offenders use such games to gain their victims’ trust and interest. In these cases, playing video games is part of the grooming process.” Here are a couple of examples:


Okay, did I get your attention? Now consider that there is no monitoring software that can be installed on these devices to watch whether a supervised offender is contacting a minor or viewing pornography. Okay, what about some kind of blocking controls. Nope…those are “parental controls”, designed to keep kids away from bad stuff. You might be able to limit a sex offender’s access to pornography through these controls but it also might force them to only interact with kids…very bad idea. Hey there is always the ability to search the gaming consoles right? Yes there is, but it is very technical and not for the faint of heart. The consoles are computers but they don’t have the same operating systems or internal hardware. It is not something your are going to employ every couple weeks or so to check on your sex offender’s gaming activities. You got any solutions for this mess you pointed out?…. here are a few:

  • Seek a total ban/restriction for sex offenders who have a history of contact offenses involving minors or attempting to entice children online from possessing or accessing these devices. (Its not like they need them to find a job or get schooling right!)
  • You might also be able to justify a prohibition for offenses involving child pornography if it can be shown that the images were obtained from the Internet, involved trading/distribution/production, and/or the offender has a history of contact offenses.
  • In seeking restrictions, note the technical difficulties in monitoring these devices, the number of minors using them, and the capabilities to browse the Internet, chat, etc. This is particularly the case if restrictions limiting access to places where minors play, congregate, or gather are deemed appropriate.

For other cases in which you can’t get a prohibition, periodically ask to see bank statements and/or credit card bills to determine if they have been any charges for credits in online communities that might reflect they are in places where minors frequent. You might also consider laying some paper (subpoena/court order/warrant) on the Internet Service Provider that provides Internet access for the gaming console to get profile information and locations they go to while online. In states that require the disclosure of Internet identifiers as part of sex offender registration ensure that if your offender is online playing games he is reporting his/her online gaming profile in the register. Additionally, seek appropriate assistance if it becomes necessary to examine the gaming device. Suggestions include:

SEARCH also has A Guide to Online Gaming for Law Enforcement Investigators (October 2007), which is only for law enforcement. Finally, don’t forget my favorite high tech investigations training organization (HTCIA) ! I am sure they will cover gaming devices at the 25th HTCIA International Training Conference & Expo, September 12-14, 2011, at Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa, Indian Wells, California (Near Palm Springs). Don’t forget to tell Wojo and Jimmie I sent you!

PS:  Post your questions/suggestions about other cybercrime topics at  The Three C’s: Answers for the Correctional Professional on Cybercrime