Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 17, No. 3, July 2005 (
Police Posing as Juveniles Online to Catch Sex
Offenders: Is It Working?
Kimberly J. Mitchell,
and David Finkelhor
This paper explores the extent and effectiveness of proactive investigations in which
investigators pose as minors on the Internet to catch potential sex offenders. It uti-
lizes a subsample of cases from the National Juvenile Online Victimization Survey,
which concerned persons arrested for Internet sex crimes against minors in the
year beginning July 1, 2000. Results suggest proactive investigations represented
a signiﬁcant proportion (25%) of all arrests for Internet sex crimes against minors.
Such investigations were being conducted at all levels of law enforcement. The
online personas assumed by investigators paralleled the ages and genders of real
youth victimized in sex crimes that started as online encounters. These proactive
investigations accessed an offender group that appeared somewhat less deviant
in terms of adult sexual behavior and arrest history but equally deviant as other
online offenders in terms of possession of child pornography. Prosecution of these
cases produced high rates of guilty pleas and low rates of dismissed or dropped
cases. The entrapment, fantasy or role-playing, and factual impossibility defenses
were used but not successfully. Findings suggest that the Internet sometimes allows
law enforcement to interdict before a youth is victimized, gather solid evidence of
offenses, and ﬁnd and track some offenders.
KEY WORDS: Internet; undercover; sex crimes; law enforcement; prosecution; proactive.
The undercover agent (UC) was posing as a 13-year old girl and was contacted by the [30-
year old male] offender when they were in a chat room together. The UC and the offender
communicated via chats, IM [instant messaging] and e-mail for about a month and a half.
They always talked during the day when the offender was at work because he said that his
Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Crime against Children Research Center, University
of New Hampshire, 10 West Edge Drive, Ste.106, Durham, New Hampshire 03824; e-mail: kimberly.
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.