HPOU Legal’s Huffman gathers child sex crime data showing that the Internet offers easier targets for predators

Tom Kennedy

Child predators succeed at a much higher rate if they groom their victims online instead of in person, according to a study that will be presented to the 31st Annual Crimes Against Children Conference this August in Dallas.


HPOU legal counsel Mary Nan Huffman said she contributed to the study, compiled by Dr. Darrell Turner, who specializes in the study of sex offenders, including online perpetrators.


“He asked me to compile a list of statistics,” Huffman said, explaining that the information came from officers and detectives investigating child sex offenders.


The study was compiled based on data from investigators such as race, age, color of the perpetrators and their victims and details surrounding the big question: Did they actually meet? And: Did they have sex?


“Our raw numbers showed the difference between grooming a child in person and grooming a child on the Internet,” Huffman said. “It’s many times faster and easier on the Internet.”


A predator must work harder and take longer to gain the trust of a young victim in face-to-face meetings. The question and answer centering around “You won’t tell, will you?” seems to be much more complicated in person.


On the Internet, however, the study shows predators have it much easier and score an in-person encounter faster than in face-to-face situations.


“The escalation of the sex talk starts out mild and progresses to more mature topics,” Huffman explained. “Instead of in-person development of a relationship to make sure the kid’s not going to tell, the (Internet) predator can ask, ‘You want to have sex?’


“If the answer is NO, he can go on to the next one. If YES, all the things happen much faster than they do in person.”


Details of the study will be presented in lecture form to the conference in Dallas Aug. 12-15. The popularity of the conference has grown dramatically over the years. More than 5,000 participants are expected.


It attracts prosecutors from the county, state and federal levels, county attorneys, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Texas Child Protective Services and U. S. Marshal Service and, of course, law enforcement officers from all over the nation and other countries.


Huffman has a passion for putting away child abusers and anyone charged with sex offenses involving children. Before coming to HPOU Legal last fall she worked about nine years as a prosecutor under Montgomery County District Attorney Britt Ligon, himself a former Union attorney on the Third Floor team. She was the chief prosecutor of the Internet Crimes Against Children Division, earning prestigious awards and recognition for her success.


It was only natural that Huffman was called on to help Dr. Turner with his study. Turner is a private practitioner in Louisiana but spends lots of time in Huntsville working with Sam Houston State University and the Texas Department of Justice.


Huffman said she and her former Montgomery County colleague, Assistant District Attorney Laura Bond, will lecture on the “Four Ps of Computer Forensics.” Huffman referred to Bond as “my old trial partner.”


Huffman shared “the four Ps” of computer forensics in child porn settings. And they are:


  • Seize the electronic devices.
  • Analyzing the contents of desk tops and lap tops.
  • Getting with the forensic examiner: The question is not: Is this child porn? The question is: Who dunnit? “It’s like a murder,” Huffman explained. “You know someone’s been killed. You need to find out who did it.”
  • This entails preparing all witnesses for the trial, an often long and arduous task.


Huffman believes that “understanding the forensic process is critical for officers and prosecutors navigating a criminal case with digital evidence. She said in Turner’s lecture attendees will learn about different places to look for evidence on the device, collecting evidence from third parties, tips on how to put a suspect behind the keyboard, how to prove every element of the crime, and common defenses that can be easily disproved by your forensic examiner.


Turner will discuss the importance of preserving the “crime scene” aka the digital device, understanding the basics of how digital evidence is processed by a forensic examiner, preparing for trial, tips on directing a forensic examiner as an expert witness and presenting evidence at trial.


Huffman called the lecture “a behind the screens look from the beginning of the investigation until the disposition of the case.”