Purdue cybercrime expert named Fulbright Scholar for work targeting pedophiles in Spain

Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, an associate professor of computer science and information technology at Purdue University’s Polytechnic Institute, has been selected as a Fulbright Scholar for her work on cybersecurity — specifically for her upcoming research that will analyze criminological differences and online grooming strategies of sexual children. operating offenders in Spain, training Spanish law enforcement officers and conducting community safety seminars.

A recognized expert in the who and why of cybercrime, particularly Internet crimes against children, Seigfried-Spellar will work with the University Institute of Criminology and Criminal Sciences Research at the University of Valencia in Spain. The sexual exploitation of children is a global concern and is one of the most pressing criminal threats facing the European Union, according to Europol. Over the past two years, the global COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an increase in the sexual exploitation of children, as public health concerns have forced much of the world’s social, educational and professional life to shut down. move indoors and online.

“Reports suggest that nearly ninety percent of 10-year-olds in Spain have internet access, and one in five young Spaniards have experienced grooming online,” Seigfried-Spellar said. “This Fulbright Award provides the opportunity to use applied research to help identify these criminals and, most importantly, protect these children.”

Seigfried-Spellar’s Fulbright work will focus on online chats – a key format used by child sex offenders to groom or entice their underage targets – and will take place during the 2022-2023 academic year. .

Adaptation of the chat analysis triage tool to identify child sex offenders

Seigfried-Spellar will work with the University Institute for Criminology and Criminal Sciences Research at the University of Valencia in Spain during the 2022-2023 academic year.Together with Julia Rayz, associate professor of computer science and information technology at Purdue Polytechnic, Seigfried-Spellar previously developed the Chat Analysis Triage Tool (CATT), a program that uses state-of-the-art natural language processing techniques to analyze online conversations between minors and child predators. CATT identifies the adults most likely to try to meet intended victims in person, giving law enforcement more opportunity to arrest these offenders before a child is physically harmed. Seigfried-Spellar’s cross-cultural work as a Fulbright Scholar will adapt the CATT to identify such offenders in Spain and create a foundation for law enforcement training and community safety seminars.

“This collaboration will create a multicultural combination of expertise in forensic psychology, criminology and natural language processing, leading to a better understanding of criminological differences and grooming strategies of perpetrators of child sexual exploitation in Spain”, explained Seigfried-Spellar.

By examining criminological variables, including characteristics of the perpetrator and the victim, such as age and sex; chat platforms, such as Instagram; and offender-specific tactics, such as self-disclosures intended to build trust with the intended victim, Seigfried-Spellar’s applied research will develop the data needed to help train CATT algorithms for Spanish offenders and help fill a significant lack of literature on non-victims. Anglophone child sexual abuse offenders.

In preparation for this research, Seigfried-Spellar has previously worked with the University of Valencia to collect from Spanish law enforcement over 176 criminal cases involving conversations between minors and online offenders.

“It is important to note that in all cases we review, we diligently protect the identities of these children,” Seigfried-Spellar said. “No names or other identifying information is available to our researchers.”

Expected impact

Upon completion of the project, Seigfried-Spellar plans to build on its findings and, with its collaborators, provide law enforcement training on perpetrators of child sexual exploitation, offer educational seminars focused on on Parents on Internet Safety and Security and to disseminate its findings to sex offenders. prevention and intervention programs — all tailored to the realities of child sexual exploitation in Spain.

“I hope this is just the beginning,” Seigfried-Spellar said. “As CATT and other technologies evolve, we also need to broaden our research through a broader cross-cultural lens to make these technologies globally available and effective.”

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