By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department's internal watchdog on Tuesday faulted the FBI for flaws in how it notifies child victims when their images are discovered during federal investigations into child sexual abuse materials.
In a new audit, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said that while the FBI generally notifies victims and their guardians when it first discovers child sex abuse photographs during an investigation, it has often failed to provide ongoing notifications to victims when their photos have come up again in subsequent cases.
"Generally, child victims and their guardians are notified by investigators and victim specialists when their
images are first identified in a federal investigation," the report says.
"However ... when those images were found in subsequent investigations, the FBI did not consistently notify these child victims and their guardians or advise them of their rights if
their images were in more than one investigation."
The audit comes at a time when the FBI is under scrutiny for its botched child sexual abuse investigation into disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
Last week, gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols told a U.S. Senate panel in detail https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/gymnasts-simone-biles-aly-raisman-testify-us-senate-sex-abuse-probe-2021-09-15how the FBI's failures allowed Nassar to continue sexually assaulting other girls and young women for more than a year.
Not only did the FBI delay in interviewing victims, but in Maroney's case, an FBI agent interviewed her over the phone without her parents present and later falsified details of her account.
In Tuesday's audit, Horowitz said the FBI's criteria for determining when to notify victims if more of their images are found in cases is too narrow.
Its process has been to let victims know about additional images if they are deemed to be "actively traded," meaning the child sex abuse materials have come up in at least five additional investigations.
From July 2020 through September 2020, the audit found that as many as 8,693 child victims or their guardians did not likely receive notice that more images had been uncovered because they did not yet meet the "actively traded" threshold.
Regina Thompson, the FBI's assistant director for Victims Services, said in response to the audit the bureau agrees "it is important to consistently implement the legal and Department policy requirements for notifying victims of these federal crimes" and concurred with the audit's recommendations.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)