In an excerpt from former cybercrimes detective Brett Lee’s book; Screen Resolution, we learn from his real life experiences in the field.
'During investigations, detectives came across a concerning website called BoyChat that provided them with a clear insight into the mindset of adult men who prefer teenage boys, or younger, for sex. They refer to themselves, as do the police, as ‘boy lovers’ and are a very distinctive type of criminal. They appear to be far more committed than other child sex offenders, more focused, and harder to catch. They express their anger regularly as they harbour a grudge from knowing how society perceives them. Before stumbling on their website, detectives knew these individuals existed on the internet, but it was extremely difficult to establish their identities. BoyChat gave them an online forum in which to connect, network, empower each other, and normalise their behaviour. Their motto is ‘You are not alone’, and their constant themes include reassuring each other that it is okay to be a predator and encouraging each other to embrace their feelings. The site encourages them to act on their desires rather than seek help for their illness.
Police used the online persona of a thirteen year old boy; let’s call him Riley. The role playing deliberately displayed a lot of innocence, as would be expected of many boys Riley’s age. Before long, Riley was approached continually by a person with a different manner to the fast, aggressive type of predator. The new contact’s grooming process was slow and methodical. This patient, polite groomer, Peter, joined a game Riley was playing. His strategy was to steadily grow the friendship by playing the game and letting it develop at a personal level. Instead of hiding his age, he told Riley up front. Then after steadily communicating with Riley over several weeks, Peter began talking about topics of a sexual nature in a subtle and, on the surface, appropriate kind of way. He asked Riley lots of questions, probably to get a sense of who the teenager was. He was no doubt doing this with lots of boys, gathering information and trying to identify a victim. He then started to ask questions alluding to Riley’s sexuality and the sexuality of others his age. Eventually Peter identified a trait in Riley’s persona suggesting he was curious about his sexuality. He began asking Riley about his sexual preferences. He was patient, but the detective posing as Riley and his supporting colleague had been even more patient; the bait was taken. The conversation became increasingly frank as Peter delved further into Riley’s faked curiosity. He became more confident in probing that area, letting Riley know that he could ask him anything and he would explain it. He said he would not judge Riley like his friends and parents would. He said if Riley had a same sex persuasion, he should keep it to himself. He said he was really the only person in Riley’s life at that stage that could be trusted.
Peter told Riley he was gay and that how Riley behaved online suggested he could have a similar sexual persuasion. He began exposing the thirteen year old to images and videos, initially of adult men having sex with each other, then of men with young boys. He would always make sure Riley was okay with it. ‘I do not usually do this, but I can see that it may help you,’ Peter said, making it sound as though their online discussions were all for Riley’s benefit. After a while, it became apparent to the detectives that the online discussions, and Peter’s exposing of Riley to the disturbing images, were turning the predator on sexually. At one stage, Peter tried to coerce Riley to go to school and take nude photos of other boy students while they were sharing the change room. He wanted Riley to send the images to him. He said he could use them to explain to Riley the different stages of development in a boy becoming a man. Peter gradually introduced an interest in ‘maybe meeting’, a face-to-face meeting in the physical world so he could ‘explain’ things further and ‘demonstrate’ some things. This was all a part of his approach to desensitise Riley and to explore whether there was a possibility that he would be interested in taking part in some of the activities he was describing.
During his grooming process, the offender also introduced Riley to another teenage male identity on the internet. ‘I’m talking to another boy just like you on the internet,’ Peter said. ‘His name is Kai. He is fifteen years old, and his sexual persuasion is towards boys as well. If you want to talk to him, that would be fine. He would be able to explain things to reassure you that you are normal, that everything is okay with you, and that you are in for a great life.’ Peter said Kai lived in New Zealand. It is thought he chose an overseas location to reduce the chance that Riley would try to arrange to meet Kai in person. While it was never confirmed, detectives believe the boy was a fictitious identity created by the offender to further desensitise and groom Riley. On one occasion, while communicating with Riley, Peter said, ‘Hey, why don’t you send a message to Kai?’ ‘Okay,’ Riley responded. Peter then logged out and the boy Kai logged on, which firmed detectives’ opinion that they were one and the same person. The program they were chatting in could only have one identity logged in per device, so it was not possible for Peter to have two identities communicating with Riley at the same time. Maybe Kai did exist, more probably not. Still believing he was talking to a teenager, Peter continued chatting with Riley about having sex with others his age and with people of the same gender. ‘Look, if you do not believe me that other children are doing these things, have a talk with my teenage friend Kai.’ The detective pretended to take Peter’s advice and began talking to Kai. It is suspected that the banter between Riley and Kai was exciting Peter sexually. All the while, Peter was coming across as increasingly smug that he was closing in on Riley. His fifteen year old alter ego, or accomplice, was normalising that behaviour in Riley’s mind, or so he thought. Then one day, Kai dropped a bombshell: ‘I have done sexual stuff with Peter!’ The detective almost fell off his computer chair. His heart started pumping as the adrenalin kicked in. The predator was making his intentions clearer, blissfully unaware that he was actually the one being hunted. Patient Groomer was moving towards meeting Riley in person. ‘I have done these things, and I have done them with Peter,’ Kai said of the obscene acts he had been showing Riley in images and videos online. ‘It is fantastic! It is great!’ ‘Did you know Peter is rich? He will give you things if you are his friend like that.’
So, the groundwork was patiently being laid to make inappropriate activity sound very normal. Peter and Kai were priming Riley to think he could get a lot out of it. ‘It is fun,’ Peter said. ‘It is exciting,’ agreed Kai in follow-up chats. He told Riley that Peter would provide him with gifts and incentives if he had sex with him. ‘That is what he does for me, he gives me fantastic gifts,’ Kai said, still not knowing that the detective was certain he and the older man were the same person. The patient, polite predator’s methodology reflected in this case is similar to thousands of interactions detectives have while tracking down online sex offenders who pursue boys or girls — or sometimes both. There is probably an even mix of speedy aggressors and patient groomers. Peter finally expressed interest in setting up a meeting. He said he was prepared to fly to the region where Riley indicated he lived. Arrangements were communicated through Peter’s young stand-in, Kai. ‘Peter wants to fly to Queensland,’ he told Riley. ‘He will get a really nice unit, and you can meet him. Then you can do some of the things that we have been talking about.’ Peter’s confidence was probably buoyed by noting that Riley had not objected to Kai’s suggestion that he might pay him a visit. Peter’s adult side kicked in. ‘Riley, I have some dates worked out,’ he said. ‘I can fly to Queensland, get a unit near the beach, and you can meet me there...’
Brett’s advice for parents
1. Monitor what online games and social media platforms your kids are using, check who they’re talking to. It’s your right as a parent to know.
2. Don’t underestimate the depravity of online predators, they’re calculated and very strategic in how they groom children.
3. Stranger danger applies in the physical world and the online world, do not forget this. You must reinforce this message constantly.
4. Install parental controls on their devices. This is so important.
Managing cyber safety may seem daunting, but Family Zone and Brett are here to help. You can select Brett from Internet Safe Education as your Cyber Expert and he’ll provide tailored control settings for your family and ongoing advice for you on managing cyber safety and protecting your family from online risks.
To learn the outcome of Brett’s investigation you can purchase Screen Resolution from Amazon or click here.