Child Porn Online: the Pedophiles’ Playground
Child pornography, pedophiles and child sexual abuse have been around for centuries on a limited scale, but the proliferation of the Internet in recent years has provided the pedophiles a convenient tool to expand their activities manifold. Despite efforts at crackdown by crime fighting agencies and concerned citizens against the scourge of pedophilia, easy access to the Internet and its global reach has made effective policing difficult. Child porn online, thus, continues to thrive — making the Internet a virtual playground for the pedophiles. In this paper I shall discuss how the Internet has made child porn so accessible to pedophiles; how this easy access to child porn has created an escalation in crimes against children; what is being done by the law to remedy the problem; what role can the parents play in protecting their children from online predators and what are the warning signs that a child is being manipulated by someone older online in an inappropriate manner.
Internet: Easy Accessibility for the Pedophile
The Internet is no doubt a great resource for education, communication, research, business, and entertainment that has grown at a breakneck pace ever since the debut of the first commercial web browser in 1994. According to one study conducted in December 2004, about 60% of Americans are now connected to the Internet with the average user spending close to 3 hours per day online. (Nie, et al., 2004) the children too have widespread access to the Internet at school and at home. Unfortunately, easy accessibility to the Internet has its downside. It makes the children vulnerable to exploitation by predatory pedophiles lurking in what the U.S. Attorney General, John Ashcroft described as “the dark corners of cyberspace.” (Quoted by Magid, 2002) Before the mass advent of the Internet, most child predators stalked their victims in public places such as schoolyards, playgrounds, and shopping malls. Nowadays, with such a large number of children online, most predators target children for criminal acts in cyberspace. Young children and teenagers are considered relatively “soft” targets by the pedophiles since they are “often trusting, naive, curious, adventuresome, and eager for attention and affection” besides the fact that children and teenagers have historically not been viewed as credible witnesses. Moreover, the anonymity of the Internet eliminates many of the risks that predators previously faced while attempting to make contact with children in person. (“Internet Crimes…” 2001) Research has shown that about 25% of the children who use the Internet regularly are at some stage approached by strangers for unwanted sexual advances. While a majority of older children manage to nip such advances in the bud by cutting off the approach from strangers, many naive and vulnerable younger children can fall victim to such predators. (Ibid.)
Apart from making their approach to children easier while remaining anonymous, the Internet also enables the pedophiles to communicate with people with similar interest and to exchange their collections of child pornography with relative ease. This online communication by the pedophiles serves a two-fold purpose. One, it enables the exchange and transaction of child porn (sexually explicit photos and videos of children) by individual pedophiles as well as organized crime. Two, by connecting to people with similar interest, the pedophile fulfills his psychological need of feeling “normal,” i.e., he is not alone in being sexually attracted to young children. This feeling of “belonging to a larger community” is an important psychological boost for such perverted people since, before the advent of the Internet, most pedophiles felt isolated and marginalized as they could not air their sexual preferences openly in the communities where they lived. The “anonymity, convenience and this ease of dissemination and collection” explain the expanding use of the Internet for child porn business and it is no surprise that most studies about pedophilia indicate that as much as 75% or more of all child pornography is found and traded over the Internet. (Rachel O’Connell, quoted in “New Aspects of Pornography…”)
Child Porn Creates Escalation in Crimes against Children
There is no single type of pedophile and the behavior of each individual who is sexually attracted to children may vary. Some pedophiles are sexually attracted to young children but restrain themselves from practically acting out their fantasies (and hence do not commit a crime) because they either feel a sense of shame or because they are afraid of being caught. However, a majority of pedophiles who approach children (whether in person or on the Internet) or engage in exchange or transaction of child porn are guilty of a criminal act and a number of studies have shown that there is a definite co-relation between easy access to child porn and the escalation in crimes against children.
As the Internet provides a convenient means of communication of pedophiles and the delivery / exchange of child porn, it has given a tremendous boost to the demand (and hence, supply) for child porn around the world. The “supply” is primarily catered for by the sex-trade involving young children, mostly from the poor underdeveloped countries. The Human Rights Watch estimates that there are a million child prostitutes (children 17 and younger) in India alone, followed by Thailand: 800,000 child prostitutes, Brazil: 250,000, and Philippines: 60,000. Many of these child prostitutes are exploited for child pornography and UNICEF, conservatively, puts the figure of such children at approximately two million. (“The Unknown Crisis…” 2004) Before the advent of the Internet, large organized criminal set-ups were required to produce child pornography but the reduced cost of Personal Computers, digital cameras and easy accessibility to the Internet has enabled the child porn enterprise to evolve into a “cottage industry.” Nowadays, it does not take a significant amount of capital or resources to set up and produce child porn -one of the reasons why the menace has increased by leaps and bounds in recent times. Crimes against poor, vulnerable children have escalated since the clientele for child porn (via the Internet) has multiplied several-fold. Pictures depicting sexual acts of the most brutal kind involving children have been circulated over the Internet. As an example, a 40 seconds long video clip was discovered on the Internet recently in which two perverts have sex with a young girl and then stab her, cutting off her ears and smashing her eyes. Investigations revealed that the cruelty depicted in the film was not faked but was real when the producers of the clip were eventually traced in a South East Asian country. (Saytarly, 2004)
There is a misconception among some people, that the activity of pedophiles over the Internet is relatively harmless since it does not involve physical contact between adults and children. This is far from the truth. Activities such as possessing, selling, receiving, reproducing, exchanging, sending or transmitting child pornography over the Internet constitute a crime according to U.S. federal law. This is because patronage of child porn on the Internet results in escalation of sex crime against children, a boost to the child porn industry and causes immense psychological harm to those children who are approached by predators on the net.
Research has shown that a number of pedophiles lurk in chat-rooms often posing as children themselves in order to befriend children with ulterior motives. Their modus operandi typically consists of approaching children in chat-rooms, gaining their confidence by engaging them in conversation about their interests and hobbies and gradually introducing them to pornography by showing them pictures of children engaged in sexual activity. If successful in convincing them that there was nothing wrong in engaging in sexual acts, these predators encourage the children to exchange photos and/or try to set up meetings with them for sexual acts. Dedicated pedophiles are known to go to great lengths to set up such meetings with children. Once successful in meeting with children contacted on the Internet, the pedophile may engage in a variety of sexual behavior ranging from gentle fondling, undressing the child, exposing himself, masturbating in the presence of the child to more bizarre and violent acts such as physical beating, forced oral sex and rape. All of them are serious crimes.
What Is Being Done by the Law to Remedy the Problem?
Sections 2251, 2252 and 2260 of Title 18 of United States Code deems the “production (or aiding in the production of), advertising or soliciting for, possessing, selling, receiving, reproducing, exchanging, sending or transmitting (by mail or via computer) of child pornography” as criminal acts. (“FAQ on Child Pornography…” 2004) These laws prohibit knowingly possessing child porn images stored on a computer hard drive or disk and knowingly transmitting and receiving child pornography via the internet or electronic mail. (Ibid)
The federal Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 also included a provision that banned “virtual” child pornography (i.e., visual depictions of what “appeared to be” minors, even if it could not be proven that the depictions were of actual children). The United States Supreme Court, however, struck down this prohibition in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (April 2002) because it found the law to be “overly broad” and unconstitutional being in violation of the First Amendment, freedom of speech clause. (“Supreme Court Rejects…” 2002) More constitutional problems have been encountered in the law’s battle against child pornography as a federal court in September 2004 outlawed a Pennsylvania State law that required internet service providers (ISPs) to block websites containing child pornography. The Court considered the technology used in the blocking of such sites as clumsy that could cause “massive suppression” of constitutionally protected speech.
Apart from conducting a legal “balancing act” between the protection of children from sexual exploitation against the protection of free speech and free thought by the law makers, the campaign against child porn on the Internet is also hampered by its “borderless” characteristics. In order to counter differences in porn laws of different countries that prevented prosecution of child porn offenders, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child, on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography on May 25, 2000. The protocol, which has been signed or ratified by almost all UN member countries, seeks to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation by laying special emphasis on the criminalization of serious violations of children’s rights such as sale of children, illegal adoption, child prostitution and pornography. (“Optional Protocols…” 2002) as signatories to the protocol, member countries are committed to contribute in the fight against child porn. As a result, several criminal networks and individuals engaged in the production and distribution of such material have been busted and according to law enforcement data, about 90% of international investigative commissions, issued by Interpol, are related to Internet child porn crimes. (Saytarly, 2004)
Despite this limited success, the nature of child porn crimes on the Internet present complex new challenges for law enforcement agencies in connection with investigating crimes, collecting evidence, identifying and apprehending offenders, and assisting child victims. These difficulties are mainly due to the reason that the victims and the criminals often live in separate geographical locations, and the victims are usually reluctant to come forward and identify the offenders. At times, the child victims even deny that any crime has been committed against them. (“Internet Crimes against Children,” 2001)
Role Parents Can Play in Protecting their Children
Parents have the biggest responsibility in protecting their children from online predators and pedophiles. Just as in other areas of life, the parents have to lend a helping hand to their children about how to use the Internet appropriately and provide them with safety tips. It is important for parents to be open and frank with their children about sexual victimization and potential online dangers and tell them about the rules of safe online behavior such as:
Never giving out their names, telephone numbers, address or school name to strangers on the Internet
Never arranging face-to-face meetings with people they meet online.
It is important to place the computer in a common area of the house instead of in a child’s bedroom and making the computer and the Internet a family activity by spending time with the children online in order to monitor their favorite web destinations. It also helps if the parents maintain access to their children’s online account and randomly check their mail, files and disks, and are frank and upfront about why they are doing so. Use of filters to block inappropriate web sites can also be considered. Information about the downloading and use of filters is available on various sites on the Internet. It is also prudent for parents to find out about computer safeguards utilized by their children’s school, the public library, and other places where their children may use computers, such as in the homes of their children’s friends. (“Kid Porn Easier to…” 2002; Stempel, 2001) Any child porn activity should be promptly reported to agencies such as Child Pornography Tipline specially created to fight child porn online.
There are various telltale warning signs that parents can watch out for to detect whether their children are being stalked by predators on the Internet or whether they are accessing inappropriate online material. Young children who are sexually solicited or victimized often become withdrawn; hence if a child becomes withdrawn from the family, the reasons for the change in behavior should be explored as. Other warning signs for parents to watch out for include:
Your child quickly turns off the computer monitor or computer screen when you enter his/her room to conceal the computer content.
A child is using an online account belonging to someone else: computer-sex offenders will sometimes provide potential victims with a computer account for communication with them.
Your child spends large amounts of time online, especially at night: most children who fall victim to pedophiles are the ones who spend long hours on the Internet in chat rooms.
Pornography on your child’s computer: Pedophiles and sex-offenders often provide children with pornographic material to seduce them and to show them that sex between adults and children is “normal.”
Unsolicited mail and gifts: pedophiles are apt to provide letters, photographs and gifts to their potential victims. Sex offenders are known to have sent even long-distant plane tickets to arrange clandestine meetings with them.
Kid Porn Easier to…” 2002)
As we saw in this paper, the Internet has become the main source of child porn in recent years mainly because it provides the easiest and most effective means of communication for the pedophiles to exchange information and to approach their potential victims. Although crime-fighting agencies try their best to fight child porn traffic on the Internet, the activity continues to flourish unabated. The parents, therefore, have a major role to play in protecting their children from falling victim to the predators and sex-offenders who lurk in the cyberspace, by keeping a vigilant eye on their online activity.
FAQ on Child Pornography on the Internet.” (2004). Antichildporn.org (ACPO). Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.antichildporn.org/faq-on-cp.htm
Internet Crimes against Children.” (2001). U.S. Department of Justice. Updated December 28, 2004. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/publications/bulletins/internet_2_2001/welcome.html
Kid Porn Easier to Get and Share.” (2002). Protecting Children Online: CBS News. June 25, 2002. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/06/25/eveningnews/main513313.shtml
Magid, Larry. (2002). “Net users can help fight child porn.” Mercury News. March 21, 2002. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.pcanswer.com/articles/sjm_childporn.htm
New Aspects of Pornography and Paedophilia online.” (2001). Innocence in Danger Website. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.innocenceendanger.org/innocence/faq_aspects.html
Nie, N.H.et al. (2004). “Ten Years After the Birth of the Internet, How Do Americans Use the Internet in Their Daily Lives? December, 2004. Stanford University. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.stanford.edu/group/siqss/SIQSS_Time_Study_04.pdf
Optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” (2002). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Unicef.org. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.unicef.org/crc/oppro.htm
Saytarly, Timofey. (2004). “Child porn remains on the Internet” Computer Crime Research Center. April 23, 2004. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.crime-research.org/news/04.23.2004/231
Stempel, Camille de. (2001). “All about the Internet.” Innocence in Danger Website. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.innocenceendanger.org/innocence/faq_internet.html
Supreme Court Rejects Child-Porn Law.” (2002). Associated Press News. April 16, 2002. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,50435,00.html
The Unknown Crisis: Child Pornography on the Internet.” (2004). White paper on child porn: Section One. Retrieved on February 7, 2005 at http://www.antichildporn.org/whiteppr.htm
Defined by U.S. federal law as a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct pedophile is a person who is sexually attracted towards children; the word pedophilia comes from the Greek words paidos (child) and philein (to love)
Often through exchange of child porn through “peer-to-peer” files, similar to swapping of music files
As per Title 18 of United States Penal Code
An overwhelming majority of pedophiles are male, although female pedophiles are not unknown and may constitute about 5 to 10% of the pedophile population (Kergus, 2004)
Filters are software that use keywords such as child pornography, pedophilia, and sexuality to block sites that use such words. However, these filters are not perfect and can also deny access to many useful websites.
Certain states in the U.S., e.g., Pennsylvania had also promulgated laws requiring ISPs to block child porn sites but the Supreme Court has struck down such laws in a September 2004 ruling.
Pedophiles also work very hard at driving a wedge between a child and their family and accentuate any minor problems at home that the child might have leading to similar behavior
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