Magazine article Law & Order

Investigating Serial Child Molesters

Magazine article Law & Order

Investigating Serial Child Molesters

Article excerpt

Look at their past.

Successfully arresting and prosecuting offenders who have long preyed on children requires a different approach than traditional investigations. These serial offenders are often family members or members of the community who have access to children and are in trusted positions. They are experienced at convincing children they are untouchable and convincing the public they are innocent. When they are arrested, there may even be a public outcry insisting the person is being wrongly accused.

Perpetrators in positions of trust, such as teachers and coaches, may tell the child that no one will believe him/ her due to the standing of the offender in the community. They may even have been dismissed in other jurisdictions with no report made to authorities or police. They simply relocate, get another job, and do the same thing again. That is why it is so damaging when schools don't make reports of suspected sexual abuse by staff.

Other than child homicide, child sexual abuse investigations are probably the most diffcult type of crime for most investigators. The more serious situations involve serial offenders who molest children for years before they are caught, sometimes through generations of child victims. They prey on society's most vulnerable, children too young or immature to provide evidence against them and convince them they will be held responsible if they disclose the abuse.

Investigations of serial child sexual abuse crimes naturally center on the offense at hand. Often, investigations do not result in an arrest or prosecution because there are no reliable witnesses or the victim's family is not supportive of the perpetrator being prosecuted or may even take active steps to sabotage the investigation.

Treat Investigations as Serial Crimes

Experienced child sexual abuse investigators look at an offender's past history. Detective Rebecca Arndt, Colorado Springs Police Department Crimes Against Children Unit, pointed out that law enforcement offcers are taught the "1 plus 1" rule. If you search a defendant and fnd one weapon, likely there is a second one.

She suggests applying this same rule to sexual offenders because by the time a sexual offender gets caught, they have had multiple prior victims. "The most important aspect of identifying other victims is tenacity on the part of the investigator. However, this can be challenging based on an individual investigator's case loads and agency resources," she said.

Many jurisdictions already have multi-disciplinary teams in place that include police, child protection, child advocacy centers, and prosecutorial staff. Areas that are fortunate enough to have such teams may have facilities for video recorded victim-sensitive interviews, access to expert medical examinations, and services for victims. Arndt stated, "Coordination with child protection is critical in any child abuse/ sexual assault investigation. Frequently referrals are made to child protection agencies that were investigated by their staffbut for various reasons, these referrals were not made known to law enforcement."

Children protected and handled in a victim-sensitive manner from the beginning are much more likely to be able to testify if needed in a criminal prosecution. Joint investigations keep both police and child protection investigators on the same track because both of them are going to have to investigate the case and a joint investigation does not duplicate interviews.

According to Arndt, the biggest hurdle is there is no federal database for child protection. If she identifes an offender but there is not enough evidence to prosecute, he/she may just move to another state where there may be allegations from a new child. That state has no way of knowing about the previous investigation and she will have no idea he/she is being investigated there.

Children Provide Info in a Different Manner

Investigating sex abuse crimes against children requires a different mindset than with adult victims. …

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