Linguistic analysis of suspected child sexual offenders’ interactions in a dark web image exchange chatroom
Keywords:dark web, child sexual abuse, indecent images of children, move analysis, rhetorical structure, undercover police
Child sexual offenders convene in dark web spaces to exchange indecent imagery, advice and support. In response, law enforcement agencies deploy undercover agents to pose as offenders online to gather intelligence on these offending communities. Currently, however, little is known about how offenders interact online, which raises significant questions around how undercover officers should ‘authentically’ portray the persona of a child sexual offender. This article presents the first linguistic description of authentic offender–offender interactions taking place on a dark web image exchange chatroom. Using move analysis, we analyse chatroom users’ rhetorical strategies. We then model the move sequences of different users and user types using Markov chains, to make comparisons between their linguistic behaviours. We find the predominant moves characterising this chatroom are Offering Indecent Images, Greetings, Image Appreciation, General Rapport and Image Discussion, and that rhetorical strategies differ between users of different levels of offending and dark web image-sharing experience.
al-Khateeb, H. M. and Epiphaniou, G. (2016) How technology can mitigate and counteract cyber-stalking and online grooming. Computer Fraud & Security 1: 14–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1361-3723(16)30008-2 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1361-3723(16)30008-2
Bhatia, V. K. (1993) Analysing Genre: Language Use in Professional Settings. Abingdon Pearson Education.
Black, P. J., Wollis, M., Woodworth, M. and Hancock, J. T. (2015) A linguistic analysis of grooming strategies of online child sex offenders: implications for our understanding of predatory sexual behaviour in an increasingly computer-mediated world. Child Abuse & Neglect 44: 140–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.12.004 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.12.004
Bremner, S. and Phung, B. (2015) Learning from the experts: an analysis of résumé writers’ self-presentation on LinkedIn. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 58(4): 367–380. https://doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2016.2519319 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2016.2519319
Briggs, P., Simon, W. T. and Simonsen, S. (2011) An exploratory study of Internet-initiated sexual offenses and the chat room sex offender: Has the Internet enabled a new typology of sex offender? Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment 23(1): 72–91. https://doi.org/10.1177/1079063210384275 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1079063210384275
Cardei, C. and Rebedea, T. (2017) Detecting sexual predators in chats using behavioral features and imbalanced learning. Natural Language Engineering 23(4): 589–616. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1351324916000395 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1351324916000395
Chiang, E. (2018) Rhetorical moves and identity performance in online child sexual abuse interactions. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Centre for Forensic Linguistics, Aston University, Birmingham.
Chiang, E. and Grant, T. (2017) Online grooming: moves and strategies. Language and Law/Linguagem e Direito 4(1): 103–141.
Chiang, E. and Grant, T. (2019) Deceptive identity performance: offender moves and multiple identities in online child abuse conversations. Applied Linguistics 40(4): 675–698. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amy007 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amy007
Craven, S., Brown, S. and Gilchrist, E. (2007) Current responses to sexual grooming: implication for prevention. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 46(1): 60–71. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2311.2007.00454.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2311.2007.00454.x
Csárdi, G. (2019) igraph: Network Analysis and Visualization. R package version 1.2.4. Retrieved in March 2019 from: https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/igraph/index.html
Davidson, J. and Gottschalk, P. (2011) Characteristics of the Internet for child sexual abuse by online groomers. Criminal Justice Studies 24(1): 23–36. https://doi.org/10.1080/1478601X.2011.544188 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/1478601X.2011.544188
Finkelhor, D. (1984) Child Sexual Abuse: New Theory and Research. New York: Macmillan.
Grant, T. and MacLeod, N. (2016) Assuming identities online: experimental linguistics applied to the policing of online paedophile activity. Applied Linguistics 37(1): 50–70. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amv079 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amv079
Grant, T. and MacLeod, N. (2018) Resources and constraints in linguistic identity performance: a theory of authorship. Language and Law/Linguagem e Direito 5(1): 80–96.
Grant, T. and MacLeod, N. (2020) Language and Online Identities: The Undercover Policing of Internet Sexual Crime. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108766425 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108766425
Gunawan, F. E., Ashianti, L., Candra, S. and Soewito, B. (2016) Detecting online child grooming conversation. Proceedings from the 11th International Conference on Knowledge, Information and Creativity Support Systems, 2016. Yogyakarta, Indonesia. https://doi.org/10.1109/KICSS.2016.7951413 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1109/KICSS.2016.7951413
Home Office. (n.d.) Indecent Images of Children: Guidance for Young People. [Online]. Retrieved in February 2019 from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/indecent-images-of-children-guidance-for-young-people/indecent-images-of-children-guidance-for-young-people
Home Office. (2003) Criminal Justice Act 2003. Retrieved in February 2019 from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/44/contents
Kloess, J. A., Hamilton-Giachritsis, C. E. and Beech, A. R. (2017) Offense processes of online sexual grooming and abuse of children via internet communication platforms. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment 31(1): 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/1079063217720927 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1079063217720927
Liu, J. and Deng, L. (2016) A genre analysis of web-based crowdfunding discourse. Asian ESP Journal 12(2): 171–202.
MacLeod, N. and Grant, T. (2017) ‘go on cam but dnt be dirty’: linguistic levels of identity assumption in undercover online operations against child sex abusers. Language and Law/Linguagem e Direito 4(2): 157–175.
Marshall, W. L. and Barbaree, H. E. (1990) An integrated theory of the etiology of sexual offending. In W. L. Marshall, D. R. Laws and H. E. Barbaree (eds) Handbook of Sexual Assault: Issues, Theories, and Treatment of the Offender 257–275. New York: Plenum. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4899-0915-2_15 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4899-0915-2_15
Martellozzo, E. (2015) Policing online child sexual abuse – the British experience. European Journal of Policing Studies 4(1): 32–52. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5553/EJPS/2034760X2015003001003
McManus, M. A., Almond, L., Cubbon, B., Boulton, L. and Mears, I. (2016) Exploring the online communicative themes of child sex offenders. Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling 13(2): 166–179. https://doi.org/10.1002/jip.1450 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/jip.1450
Mitchell, K. J., Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D. and Jones, L. (2012) Investigators using the Internet to apprehend sex offenders: findings from the Second National Juvenile Online Victimization Study. Police Practice and Research 13(3): 267–281. https://doi.org/10.1080/15614263.2011.627746 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/15614263.2011.627746
Moreno, A. and Swales, J. (2018) Strengthening move analysis methodology towards bridging the function–form gap. English for Specific Purposes 50: 40–63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2017.11.006 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2017.11.006
O’Connell, R. (2003) A typology of cyber sexploitation and online grooming practices. Preston, England: Cyberspace Research Unit, University of Central Lancashire. Retrieved in February 2019 from: http://netsafe.org.nz/Doc_Library/racheloconnell1. pdf.
Pranoto, H., Gunawan, F. E. and Soewito, B. (2015) Logistic models for classifying online grooming conversation. Procedia Computer Science 59: 357–365. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2015.07.536 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2015.07.536
Skalicky, S. (2013) Was this analysis helpful? A genre analysis of the Amazon.com discourse community and its ‘most helpful’ product reviews. Discourse, Context & Media 2(2): 84–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2013.04.001 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2013.04.001
Spedicato, G. A., Kang, T. S., Yalamanchi, S. B., Thoralf, M., Yadav, D., Cordón, I., Jain, V. and Giorgino, T. (2019) markovchain: Easy Handling Discrete Time Markov Chains. R package version 0.6.9.14. Retrieved in March 2019 from: https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/markovchain/index.html
Stemler, S. E. (2004) A comparison of consensus, consistency, and measurement approaches to estimating interrater reliability. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation 9(4).
Swales, J. (1981) Aspects of Article Introductions: Aston ESP Research Reports No. 1. Language Studies Unit, Aston University, Birmingham.
Swales, J. (1990) Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Urbas, G. (2010) Protecting children from online predators: the use of covert investigation techniques by law enforcement. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 26(4): 410–425. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1043986210377103
Westlake, B. and Bouchard, M. (2016) Liking and hyperlinking: community detection in online child sexual exploitation networks. Social Science Research 59: 23–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2016.04.010 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2016.04.010
How to Cite
© Equinox Publishing Ltd.
For information regarding our Open Access policy, click here.