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Purdue professors develop tool to prevent online predators from striking

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – It’s estimated that roughly 750,000 adults are trying to seek out sex with children at any given time.

A group of professors at Purdue University now believe they’ve developed a tool that can potentially save many future victims.

The “Chat Analysis Triage Tool (CATT) was developed by professors Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, Marcus Rogers and Julia Taylor Rayz; essentially, using chatrooms and messages, CATT can filter out and identify predators most likely to pursue face-to-face meetings with children from those more driven by cyber-sex and fantasy.

“If we can flag or triage for law enforcement a higher risk of somebody showing up, then in theory, law enforcement might be able to intervene before a sex offense happens,” Seigfried-Spellar said.

While the professors won’t reveal every detail behind how CATT works, they are willing to say that the technology uses a combination of natural language processing, psycho-linguistic analysis, content analysis and statistics; which in its simplest form can be describe as breaking down language to analyze intention and producing a sort of “score.”

“It’s really doing what a human analyst can do intuitively, and actually doing it with some mathematical formulas, and doing it much faster and in fact more accurate, “Marcus Rogers said.

To calibrate CATT, the professors worked with law enforcement across the country and used around 4,000 real conversations between predators and victims.

“It doesn’t care if you spell something wrong, if you spell something with a Harvard education versus a grade school education, that’s all factored in,” Rogers said.

Seigfried-Spellar and Rogers say one of the biggest benefits of CATT is the speed and accuracy of which it’s able to detect a predator’s intentions. CATT then displays the results and “score” with a simple gas gauge type model.

“If we can help create a more efficient process and then potentially stop a sex offense from occurring, I think that’s the ultimate goal here,” Seigfried-Spellar said.

The pair say they anticipate testing out CATT with law enforcement agencies within the next few months. It’s possible the tool could be ready by the end of the year.

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