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Academic thinking shapes Police operation to catch online paedophiles

Undercover Police operations to catch online sex predators preying on children are now being shaped by academic research carried out by leading criminologist Dr Elena Martellozzo.

Undercover Police operations to catch online sex predators preying on children are now being shaped by academic research carried out by leading criminologist Dr Elena Martellozzo.

The first of its kind partnership between academia and the Police involved Dr Martellozzo, lecturer in criminology at Middlesex University, being given unprecedented access to documents, staff, and facilities in the Metropolitan Police’s Paedophile and High Tech Crime Unit, enabling her to view and understand online predators in their ‘natural environment’.

The detailed research has led to a new training programme for undercover officers and others who combat online child sexual abuse, which she is delivering to the Metropolitan Police. Her findings allow her to provide officers with thorough insights into offenders’ personalities, their grooming techniques, as well as the evolving children’s online activities. The course has been designed to withstand the impact of being exposed to child sex abusers during the course of their work. 

Training uses resources like online chat logs between young children and sexual predators and interviews with convicted offenders, which delve into their mentality and allow officers to second guess how they work and track their movements. Her research also revealed shocking findings such as that an online predator often begins to groom a child within eight minutes.

The research findings have also been recorded in a book, launched at New Scotland Yard last week, where Dr Martellozzo said: “Understanding how sex offenders and young people use the Internet and how the police and government agencies are responding to their behaviour is central to how we think about the development of preventative measures”.

“The way youngsters use and interact with the internet is always developing. It is their part of their world – they see no difference between their online and offline lives anymore.

“As we move forward the contribution of academia grows. My current projects include de briefing of sex offenders and victim satisfaction. This partnership will continue to ensure that our efforts to protect children from the most dangerous offenders are as effective as possible.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Reg Hooke of the Met's Child Abuse Investigation Command said: “This book is more than a valuable piece of academic work as it reflects the dynamic partnership that has developed between Elena and the paedophile unit.  It takes the reader through the academic context and all current thinking and deductions and then illustrates the very clear relevance to actual criminal investigations.  It is in my view an exploration of all the current challenges facing both academia and operational covert units in tackling online child sexual abuse”. 

“It is a valuable support to training and is an essential read for those working in this field whatever their role.  Collaboration between operational policing and academic research is essential to ensure that we develop our operational practices to maximum effect and public safety.”

Dr Martellozzo’s book ‘Online Child Sexual Abuse: Grooming, Policing and Child Protection in a Multi-Media World’ is expected to provide a valuable resource both for front line law enforcement professionals and researchers examining online grooming.

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