Internet Environment Traps Both Predators and Victims

Kathy Shumaker is petite, friendly, and the single mother of a nine-year-old son. FBI Special Agent Kathy Shumaker is determined, no-nonsense, and a protector of Connecticut’s children from often horrific and unspeakable crimes.

“As a parent, you think of how your child looks at you so innocently, and then you think how all those victimized kids had that same innocent look,” said Shumaker. “They trusted somebody who took them out of their world of safety and did horrific things to them just because they could.”

A 22-year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Special Agent Shumaker has worked the last nine years in Connecticut. She spent the vast majority of that time in New Haven as coordinator for the Computer Crimes Task Force, a specialized unit that investigates child pornography (possession, distribution, or production) and criminal sexual activity with a child. The latter involves either travel across state lines or use of the computer to engage in sex with a child.

Shumaker definitely has an issue with the computer, or more specifically the Internet, which she says has redefined the world of sexual predators. In fact, she maintains that if not for the Internet, 70 percent of these crimes against children would not occur. “In 1950, children were still molested, but it wasn’t so easy. The Internet predators would not have gone to the effort to get a mailbox to have child pornography mailed to them in a brown paper bag. They wouldn’t have chased after their daughter’s friends.”

Becomes Accepted
“But today, if you have a random thought about what it would be like to have sex with a 13-year-old, you can go online and watch guys do it all the time. They don’t look like they’re unhappy, so suddenly it must not be too bad. It becomes accepted. My whole theory of the Internet is that these are men who, had it not been for the Internet, would never have offended. People change on the Internet. Suddenly there is this whole new world. They’re up all night on the computer and talking to this crazed 13-year-old who doesn’t know what’s going on. She’s telling him everything he wants to hear, there’s no pressure, and they develop a relationship. And yes, they will travel to have sex.”

Shumaker concurs with Internet information that states that 90 percent of child sex offenders are middle-aged, white men. “If you look at your neighbor, that’s what an Internet sex offender looks like. And that’s what’s so scary about it. They don’t look like the disgusting guy on a park bench. They look like people you would trust your children with.

“I’ve arrested people who are millionaires as well as people who can barely scrape two dimes together. I’ve arrested everybody except perhaps a funeral director. We’ve arrested men when their wives were pregnant. Some tell me they’re happily married men. We arrested one man when his daughter was getting ready to go to the prom.”

Benign Beginnings
For some, the road to becoming a sexual predator may begin fairly benignly. For example, Shumaker said, “They may get to a point in their lives where maybe they’re having a bad day or get bored, and they start looking at adult pornography. Depending on where they are in their life and how extreme the adult pornography is, they get bored with it. It doesn’t do it for them anymore.

“If you look at enough adult pornography, someone’s going to send you something illegal, and you’re going to get a picture of a 17-year-old. So they start looking at younger children, and once they get satiated at that level, they learn there are chat rooms to talk to these girls. The guy thinks, ‘Hey, I can talk to them. That’s easy.’ But men have to realize that once they go down that road, they’re going to lose everything. Their kids will not go to college, and they’re going to lose their homes.” Shumaker said there can be no worse combination than a 13-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man. “You put them talking to each other online, she has no sense of right and wrong, and he doesn’t think of her as a real person.”

Not Seen as People
Making the predator understand the harm he’s caused is one of Shumaker’s goals upon an arrest. “With the Internet predators, I get satisfaction in making them realize what they’ve done, because they don’t look at these children as people. I had one guy say to me, ‘Yes, I downloaded the series.’ I said, ‘The series that you downloaded is a five-year-old girl whose uncle took her somewhere and molested her for years. She was too scared and too terrified to tell anybody. And every day that you got your hee-haws looking at her, you victimized her again.

“The subject never thought of her as a person; she was just a series with a name next to it. Predators need to realize that they’ve changed people’s lives. When people offend, that crime affects that child, the child’s relationships, and future relationships. Even when children have been treated and healed, it’s always with them. Their life is now seen through that screen.” Shumaker feels stress can be a motivator in the work she does. “A supervisor of mine in Chicago believed that stress was good – that you needed it to do the job. And I think I believe that, too.

If I’m not stressed, I don’t feel like I’m working. But that’s just who I am.”

Shumaker is also humble. She does not like to advertise her achievements, which include several United State’s Attorney’s awards for cases she has successfully investigated. Additionally, Shumaker reaches out to the community to help educate children, parents, and schools about Internet crime. For example, she addresses parent-teacher organizations, and she was a participant in a 2007 seminar to encourage Fairfield County educators to teach students to steer clear of Internet predators.

A native of Ohio, Shumaker first thought of law enforcement while in high school. “But at the time I grew up, that just wasn’t something girls did,” she said. “My father said the FBI was not going to let a girl in, so I didn’t pursue it. But when I was working on my master’s degree (in communications), my father said, ‘What do you really want to do?’ And I wanted to be an FBI agent. There was a huge advertisement in the paper that day recruiting for the FBI. My father said, ‘If you want to do it, you’d better get off your butt and apply and do it.’ So I did.”

The application process took a year, during which time Shumaker was teaching in Texas. “It takes a year to get in,” she said. “I think it’s a test to see how bad you really want it. That’s why the FBI doesn’t make it easy to get in. If you hang in there for that year, I think that’s the first test of getting into the Bureau.”

No Comfort Zone
Shumaker was accepted in 1986, and at the age of 29 was sent for training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. “I went from an academic community to one where you had to run and shoot,” she said. “I wasn’t athletic, I had never shot a gun before, and I didn’t know anything about the law. I had no comfort zone.”

The training was rigorous, as Shumaker acknowledges. “It was a whole new environment,” she said. “I wasn’t who I used to be. I felt like Private Benjamin when she said, ‘I want to be normal again.’ I felt like that every day of my life at Quantico.”

Her father’s initial sentiment also proved true. “By the time I got in, we were still considered ‘female agents’ as opposed to just agents,” Shumaker said. “But I owe a lot to the women who came in 10 years before me. In my class, there were eight women out of 40. It wasn’t that I wasn’t equal, it was just that I learned early on that as a female, you had to work twice as hard to be as good.” Because the training was hard and challenging, Shumaker said her graduation was rewarding. “When I made it,” she said, “I felt I had earned it. It wasn’t something that was given to me.”

Shumaker’s first assignment was with foreign counterintelligence in the Phoenix office. However, she quickly discovered that her interests lay with another squad. “The bank robbery squad was like the run and gun, kick in the door type of fun,” she said. “I loved that work so much that I used to take vacation time so I could work cases with the bank robbery guys. If I knew something was coming up, I would work my normal day and then go back and work with them. It was just the best work around.” Needless to say, Shumaker was soon transferred to the bank robbery squad.

“Horrific Case”
It was a rape and murder case, however, that stays with her from her years in Phoenix. “It was probably in my second year,” recalls Shumaker. “We were called up to Flagstaff on a kidnapping, and the girl that had gone missing was on vacation with her parents. The girl had gotten up in the morning and told her mom she was riding her bike over to the stables. And mom says, ‘I’ll meet you over there.’ So mom gets in her truck, waves to her daughter, and drives to the stables. Well, the girl never makes it there. Mom comes back and sees the bike lying in the grass.”

The case made a huge impact on Shumaker. “It was horrific,” she said. “The mom hadn’t done anything wrong. It just turned out that day that somebody had gotten up and said, ‘I’m going to rape and murder a little girl.’ And that’s what he did. The girl didn’t ask to be targeted, and that parent did som ething any of us would have done. There was nothing she could have done to prevent that.” In 1991, Shumaker was routinely transferred to Chicago, where she worked on domestic terrorism, money laundering, undercover drugs, bank robberies, and violent crimes. It was there she encountered a kidnapping that was probably her most bizarre case. A 13-year-old boy who didn’t show up for school had gotten on a bus with a stranger. It was subsequently learned that the boy had been talking to the subject online for about nine months.

Satanic Sex Rituals
“We got the boy off the bus in Kentucky,” Shumaker recalls. “The guy had been taking him to Florida, where the subject was living with another boy who was a runaway. The subject had these satanic sexual rituals that he wanted the boys to engage in. “But what was really bizarre is that he had initially duped this family in Iowa into believing that he was an alien and he was going to make them wealthy by going up on the towers of financial buildings and taking all the pennies when people would wire money. And these people bought it! So he was living in their basement for a year and a half. They’re thinking he’s making the money, and all he’s really doing is talking to boys online.” The family eventually found some child pornography in the basement and demanded that the subject move out.”

Shumaker worked in Chicago until 1999 when she transferred to Connecticut. After a year as the coordinator for a gang task force in Hartford, Shumaker was asked to head up the Computer Crimes Task Force in New Haven. “As I go through it historically now,” she said, “my whole career has been a foreshadowing of where I ended up.”

Where Shumaker recently landed was back in Meriden, focusing on child prostitution cases. Shumaker said she made the move in the fall of 2007 to take a break from the pace of eight years with the Computer Crimes Task Force. “I tend to get extremely emotionally tied to the cases, and I think you sometimes have to,” Shumaker said. “If you don’t have any sense of emotion toward the cases, I don’t think you should be doing them. But I think you need to take a break every now and then because you can become ineffective if you’re always in the panic mode.” She says she looks forward to the different pace and cases in her newest role with the Bureau.

At age 51, Shumaker has five more years with the FBI, where the mandatory retirement age is 56. She confesses she has no idea what she will do after retirement, although, of course, her job as a mother will continue. Even now, Special Agent Shumaker has her priorities. “I never say to my son that I have to go to work and it’s more important than he is,” she said. “I always try to make my son the most important.”

Contact the author at l.taylor@thejusticejournal.com