Investigations of Sex Crimes

The type of investigation conducted by police will depend in large part on the type of sex offense alleged as well as the specific circumstances of the case. For example, many offenders are only arrested after they have been the subject of a sting investigation or an undercover operation, while others are arrested immediately after a crime is reported.

Reported Sexual Crimes

Violent sexual crimes are often reported immediately by the victim. In these cases, most officers are directed to take the following steps:
  • Initiate and complete an incident report
  • Process the scene of the crime
  • Collect and separately package all evidence according to agency procedures, including the victim’s clothing, for future laboratory tests
  • Transport the victim to the hospital where he or she will undergo an examination and where any physical evidence will be collected
  • Complete a more thorough follow-up report containing details about the evidence collected, including witness testimony
As the investigation continues, officers will attempt to determine the time span between the offense and the report and will conduct follow-up interviews with the victim and any witnesses. If any suspects are present at the scene when the officers arrive, they should also be interviewed. If based on any statements made by the suspects, an arrest is made by officers, they will arrange for the seizure and testing of the suspect’s clothing. If a suspect’s vehicle was reportedly used in the commission of the offense, it must be sealed and towed, at which point the officer will need to obtain a search warrant. The suspect’s testimony will then be recorded and if necessary, photographs will be taken.

If a suspect is no longer present at the scene when the police arrive, the officers will interview the victims and witnesses, collect evidence, and canvas the area for additional evidence. If the victim knows the assailant, the police will be dispatched to that person’s address for an interview or will request an arrest warrant. Otherwise, the victim will be asked to describe the individual for the purpose of creating a composite drawing. Investigators will also obtain elimination fingerprints from the scene.

Sex Offenses Involving Minors

If an accusation of a sex crime is made a significant amount of time after its occurrence, officers will usually launch an investigation before making an arrest. The person who reported the offense will immediately be interviewed, and if the offense involves sexual abuse of a child, both the child and the individual who reported the crime will be questioned by specialists. Any physical evidence will also be collected and processed. If the child or accuser alleges that he or she knows the identity of the offender, law enforcement officers will attempt to make contact with that person. In many cases, especially those dealing with child pornography, police will obtain a warrant and confiscate the suspect’s computer. The computer and any discs or electronic storage devices found on the suspect’s property will then be searched. Based on these findings, police will either make an arrest or release the property back to the suspect.

Law enforcement officers are required to follow strict procedural rules when investigating crimes that involve minors. For example, under Fla. Stat. 914.16, minors under the age of 16 years old who have been the victims of sexual abuse will only be subjected to a reasonable number of interviews, the number of which will be determined by the chief judge of the judicial circuit, the state attorney, the public defender, and the chief law enforcement officer. This precaution is intended to help protect the victim from the psychological damage that can accompany repeated interrogations while preserving the rights of the parties involved.

Computer Sting Operations

In cases involving child pornography or other sex offenses against children, law enforcement officers often conduct sting operations. During these investigations, an undercover agent initiates contact via posts placed on social media platforms or other websites in an attempt to identify offenders. Once a person responds, the agent, posing as a minor, will begin conversing with the individual in a chatroom or through text message. If the person sends lewd photos or makes plans to meet with the agent, he or she could face a number of charges, including:
  • Online solicitation
  • Possession of child pornography
  • Traveling to meet a minor
  • Transmitting harmful material to a minor
  • Promoting a sexual performance by a minor
  • Attempted lewd battery
Many offenders exchange videos and images of child pornography online using file-sharing websites. Law enforcement officers often scan these websites for well-known file names connected to certain items. After discovering who downloaded and shared an item, they can then make an arrest.
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