Training on Investigation and Victim Identification in Sexual Exploitation of Children Online

Topaz Beach Hotel, Negombo

5th to 7th August 2018

Background

The training program for the Police Officers was organized by Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere – PEaCE (ECPAT Sri Lanka) as part of its latest project to End Sexual Exploitation of Children Online (ESECO).

The program had its roots in the 1st International Human Rights Conference in Istanbul that took place in February 2018. At this time, the Executive Director of PEaCE had the opportunity to meet up with the Cecilia Wallin, the Criminal Intelligence Officer from the Crimes Against Children Division in INTERPOL and discuss the capacity building needs of Sri Lanka. This is where, the seed for a training for the Sri Lankan police force with regards to Sexual Exploitation of Children Online (SECO) was planted.

The reasoning behind the training was the difficulty faced by the various divisions from the police forces when they had to handle crimes related to SECO. The rapid growth of internet users due to the many high-tech devices flooding the market, has caused a huge increase in crimes against children conducted using online means. While children continue to be exploited through the internet, the law enforcement agencies are unable to keep up with training needs and technical support required to tackle such crimes. The feedback provided during an informal survey and the post training evaluation done for the trainees during this program clearly revealed the shortcomings in their capacity and the severe lack of equipment to deal with cases of online exploitation.

Topics and Areas Covered

  • Framework – Online Child Sexual Exploitation: Definitions and Explanation of different child sexual offences (online and off line abuse, cyberbullying, grooming, live streaming etc.)
  • Victim Identification and the Background – the Global Perspective: Introduction to international terminology used in child crimes; and the importance of local, national and international cooperation and sharing of information
  • Sri Lankan Legal Perspective: The legislation, experience, challenges and needs
  • Introduction of Child Sexual Exploitation in the Netherlands and a comparison with Sri Lanka: Differences in legislation and an introduction to the ‘Barrier-model’
  • Case Studies on the reporting of Child Sexual Exploitation on the Internet: Discussions of challenges and remarks
  • Investigation Methodology: Theoretical, ‘a roadmap’ including the basics of the 3Ps, house searches, interviewing child victims and offenders, evidence to look for in a seized computer, investigation of a digital crime scene, open source investigative techniques, pro-active investigations, internet service providers and the social media, free tools useful for the Open Web, Dark Web and Peer to Peer networks.
  • Discussion on local implementation – use of methodology: Challenges and Possibilities
  • Some Case Scenarios
  • How to Work on Cases and Identify Victims and Offenders: A group activity with 2 different scenarios.
  • The Welfare of the Caretakers: Taking care of the mental health of the Police Officers
  • The International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database
  • Online Child Sexual Exploitation – not only a law enforcement responsibility: The need of collaboration with non-law enforcement organisations and industry partners.
  • International Collaboration and Sharing

Feedback

At the end of the three-day training, an evaluation was conducted to assess the quality of the training and effectiveness. The following are some of the responses received from the trained officers.

  • ‘’In the 30 yrs. of my police career this is the first time in Sri Lanka that lower rank officers, such as Police Constables and Sergeants were given the opportunity to attend an international level workshop of this nature.’’
  • ‘’There are only 1-2 Police officers for each Children and Women’s Bureau office at divisional levels. Therefore, the current officers do not have the required time to resolve these complex matters. We need to establish a separate division that will focus on the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children only”
  • ‘’We want to thank you for making us realize the magnitude and the tragic nature of the crimes committed against children.’’
  • ‘’It was hard to stay away from my family and kids for this much time at a distant location”
  • ‘’It’s best to conduct this session at the divisional level; this way people can attend the sessions closer to their homes and be with their family too.’’
  • ‘’It is not enough to just equip ourselves with the theoretical knowledge, we also need the computers and other required devices to put this newly acquired knowledge into practice.’’
  • ‘In Sri Lanka, only very few of the police stations have a computer. We need ready access to computers and the internet.’’
  • ‘’Most police officers in the division do not know how to use the computers or the internet. We need more training on this’’
  • ‘’Although we would love to have more sessions like this where needed, there are no financial provisions to hold a gathering to create awareness among the target groups on the crimes against the children.”
  • ‘’We are glad that we got this certificate, we feel that this certificate can improve our career progress prospects at Sri Lanka Police’’
  • “This is the first time the police officers had access to the foreign police training”
  • “The INTERPOL was not within our reach. Now we got a great opportunity”
  • “Only the senior officers used to have chance to stay in hotels and follow any programs. This was the first time that lower ranking officers had the chance”
  • “None of us knew about the IP Address before this, we would like to have more training about it.”
  • “We would like to have this training extended to at least for 5 days.
  • “We appreciate the way we were treated by the trainers and organisers. We have to say a big thank you to Cecilia, Maria, the PEaCE organization, the IGP and Apsara who arranged everything”
  • “This is the first time we heard about ICSE (International Child Sexual Exploitation Database)”

Special Comments on Program

The event was inaugurated by the Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara and the Acting Ambassador of Netherlands Evan van Woersem. There were 52 participants. Out of the 55 planned participants, 3 transferred to other divisions and were unable to attend.

Once the training began, it became quite clear that a majority of the participating police officers had little or no knowledge of computers, though the CWB had tried to include many of those who had as much knowledge as possible.  The informal survey conducted for the participants on internet usage clarified on the background knowledge of the officers regarding internet usage and computers.

On analysing the data, it was surprising to see that 24% among the 52 police officers who attended the training do not connect to the internet in any manner (even on the phone) or have any social media. This in itself severely limits their knowledge of the forms and modes of online abuse and the actions to take. 94% of the police officers want training on the usage of the computer, a significantly higher number than those who were aware of basic internet usage. This was because those who have social media accounts use mobile phones to check their communications.

Almost half of the police officers had no knowledge/were still unclear about IP addresses. Notably, during a quick questioning we did during the training on IP addresses, we found that none of the participants knew about IP addresses. The numbers who state that they are aware have stated so because of their newly acquired basic knowledge on IP addresses within the 3 days of training. Not knowing the IP address means that an investigator would be unable to establish key facts of the victim or perpetrator. It also explains the difficulty that the police forces have in dealing with online cases in Sri Lanka. It was also surprising to learn that 47% had never used Google for searching anything. This was just the overall data we got on the participants’ basic knowledge of computers in general, without including the knowledge of any of the specialised investigation techniques that they need to know.

This stems from the fact that there are very few police stations using computers over the entire island. Even those who were familiar with the internet were mostly only accessing it on their phones.

Though the participants struggled a little due to this lack of knowledge, they were still able to gain a lot. One of the main benefits that the participants gained was a better understanding and empathy towards survivors of Child Sexual Exploitation Online, as they were treated to the raw reality of what happens to those children who were preyed upon. The videos and images became embedded in their minds and were taken back as important information that would help them become more empathetic towards the survivors, and make them prioritize such cases. They also gained an average understanding of further techniques to be used during investigations. This understanding would need to be further embedded with more training, something that the participants themselves asked for.

This is the first time an NGO has managed to gain the attention of INTERPOL and invite them to Sri Lanka to conduct a training of this nature. As such, this program was a momentous event in history.

Follow up Actions

  • PEaCE also collaborated with the INTERPOL trainers for in-staff training for 1 day following the event. The training prepared the project team for the strenuous two years of work that faced them.
  • INTERPOL also used the opportunity to meet up with the IGP and confirmed the possibility of further training for the Police, organized by PEaCE. There was also much more discussed of importance to cybercrime.
  • A 1-day training for the participants on the usage of the internet and IP addresses is planned to be added to the project as per their request.
  • As a result of their meeting with the IGP during the training, INTERPOL was able to arrange meetings with the CID and Cybercrime Divisions of the police which prompted them to understand the need for international cooperation. As such, many coordinated projects have also been agreed upon.