Mon, Oct 29, 2007 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: Cop haunted by world of Internet predators

CATCHING CRIMINALS Flint Waters, a US criminal investigator, is one of many licensed investigators around the world trying to put child predators behind bars

AFP , WASHINGTON

In a normal working day, US criminal investigator Flint Waters will surf the Internet, chat online with someone whose acquaintance he made a few weeks earlier, and exchange photos and videos.

And every so often, Waters goes for stress counseling to try to get some of the images he's seen in a day's work out of his head, because the reality of his line of work is in sharp contrast to the attractive job description.

Waters is an undercover agent who uses investigate online sex crimes against children.

"It's difficult to deal with. We have post-traumatic stress arrangements with an expert to help us to deal with the material we come across," the father of four from Wyoming said.

At a US congressional hearing in Washington earlier this month, Waters described in graphic detail the horrors he has seen as he tracks what officials believe are millions of child sex offenders around the world who thrive in the anonymity of the Internet.

He spoke of a video of a toddler on a changing table who is penetrated by an unknown adult male, of pictures of "a young girl, about six or seven, nude and tied to a chair, who is being sexually assaulted by a dog."

"I've posed as a mother with two-year-olds and had offenders show up to have sex with the two-year-olds," Waters said.

The Internet has made it easier for law enforcement officials to track and arrest would-be child predators, but a lack of manpower means that only two percent of known offenders are investigated and brought to justice.

"We have licensed 800 investigators around the world who work the system," Waters said.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida has co-sponsored a law which would ensure that each US state has a cyber unit dedicated to combatting Internet crimes against children.

"This legislation would train federal, state and local police forces to lift the digital fingerprints left by child sex predators so they can be put behind bars," she said.

Waters hailed the Internet for giving law enforcement agents "a chance to catch child molesters without them realizing we can see what they're doing."

But he also said the Internet has made it easier for predators to find their victims and to learn "how to do their crimes better and be harder to catch."

"We have seen our [Internet child sex crimes] caseload in Connecticut double or triple. And we are using undercovers with much greater frequency ... the more lines you throw in the water the more fish you catch," he said.

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