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Sexual Exploitation of Children

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The sexual abuse of children and young people is a phenomenon that predates the arrival of the Internet by many, many centuries (Carr, 2003). Pornography can be generally defined as erotic depictions intended to provoke a sexual response. Child pornography is a special case, however; its subject matter abuses and exploits victims protected by international law: non-consenting children. It is this key trait – the illegal victimization of identifiable minors – that sets child pornography apart from classes of material which could be labeled obscene or adult erotica (Casanova, et. al., 2000).

Child pornography offenders are coming increasingly to the attention of treatment providers and criminal justice authorities as perpetrators of serious and extremely concerning cybersex crime (Quayle, Vaughan & Taylor, 2006). Being a victim of sexual abuse is challenging enough, but for someone that has been a victim of sexual abuse using the Internet, there are added complications when trying to make sense of what exactly has happened and determining who the offender is. This happens because the actual victims were mostly never touched by the offender, and in many cases, were told to touch themselves or others in order to comply with the directions given by the real offender. The Internet… from the beginning

The first recorded description of the social interactions that could be enabled through networking was a series of memos written by J.C.R. Licklider of MIT in August 1962 discussing his “Galactic Network” concept (Internet Society, 2012). The Internet has modernized the accessibility of child pornography and simplified the viewing, downloading, distribution and production of this type of material. It has provided a new forum for adults to have contact with potential sexual abuse victims and has also provided the opportunity for individuals to network with others who share their prurient sexual interest in minors (O’Connell, 2001). Constantly changing technologies, including webcams, social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal), and services such as Skype and VOIP, make online illegal activity easier. The ever increasing technology allows access to the Internet anywhere at any time.

Advances like these, as well as online resources such as peer-to-peer networks, not only allow the transmission of illegal material to move faster and in larger quantities than ever before, but it also allows predators to electronically enter the private spaces of our youth. Once they’ve crept into the bedrooms, they can engage in sexually explicit conversations in chat rooms or by using a webcam. The perpetrators are either voyeurs, using the youth’s webcam to view him or her, or can be exhibitionists by displaying their genitals or anything else for the youth to see. Identifying the victims

While rapes and sexual assaults that resulted from initial contacts in a chat room are perhaps the most extreme forms of contact-based sexual predation, they are by no means the only forms (Carr, 2003). Many children are persuaded to act out or take pictures and/or video of sexual acts they have done either alone or with others and send these images to the offender. Reports of child sexual abuse continue to rise, and, in all probability, many more cases go unreported. There is no way of knowing how many images of child abuse existed before the Internet arrived. Before the Internet, a typical arrest for possession of child pornography would include only a few pictures, all printed on paper or on video of some type. Now, there have been several arrests all over the world with more than 100,000 images obtained. As Carr (2003) states in his article Child abuse, child pornography and the internet, “In New York, in a single raid on one address, police seized an estimated one million images” (p. 11).

The idea of identifying the victims of child pornography is of course massively imperative, but it is a lot harder to do than some realize. Many of the images currently circulating on the Internet may be 30 years old or more, and some estimates say no more than 300 children have ever been identified from images obtained by police authorities all over the world. According to congressional testimony by Ernie Allen, President and CEO of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the online enticement of children has increased by more than 400% since 1998 (Sexual Exploitation, 2006). A recent report by McKinsey Worldwide estimated that today commercial child pornography is a $20 billion industry worldwide, fueled by the Internet (Sexual Exploitation, 2006). The extent of this problem is worldwide and it is driven, in part, by the fact that child pornography is a huge money-making product. Online criminal investigations, while targeting so-called “Internet sex offenders”, likely have resulted in the apprehension of many child molesters. Law Enforcement Dilemmas

In the USA, law enforcement agencies arrested an estimated 1,713 offenders for Internet-related crimes that involved the possession of child pornography during the 12 months starting July 1, 2000 (Wolak, Michell, & Finkelhor, 2003). Wolak et al. found that 80% of these offenders possessed pornography depicting graphic sexual images and 83% possessed images depicting prepubescent children (2003). The Internet has opened up new opportunities for investigation and evidence collection in child sex crimes. Computer technology can provide law enforcement agents with powerful weapons and forensic evidence often lacking in conventional child sex crimes (Norland & Bartholet, 2001). Since much of what takes place on the Internet leaves a digital trail, it is possible that this may actually facilitate police investigations of some child sex crimes, and allow law enforcement agencies with access to computer forensic equipment to collect valuable digital evidence (Wells et. al., 2007). Due to the global reach of the Internet, an individual may possess child pornography images created or disseminated from anywhere in the world (Copine Project, 2003).

Many law enforcement agencies have began using the major tool used to circulate child porn to assist in fighting it; the Internet. Technology
has helped the problem grow and is ultimately being used to bust the offenders. Law enforcement agents are posing as underage individuals in various chat rooms in hopes of catching the attention of a prowler before they create another victim. The individuals that perform these tasks are usually referred to as the “cyber crimes task force”. Once the agent develops a relationship with the prowler, they continue contact until enough information can be obtained to assist in identifying the person. Sadly, the process can take time and sometimes the identity is very difficult to prove. News media programs, such as “To Catch a Predator” by Dateline NBC, also assist in helping law enforcement with the task of arranging meetings with the offenders. In addition to the cybercrimes units, law enforcement agencies are teaming with schools to provide education to children pertaining to the Internet and the potential danger lurking in cyberspace. As the information highway increases, more children are being raised in the digital age and need to be educated about predators. Education of the potential dangers for parents and children will help assist in preventing additional victims.

Children spend more time on line than ever before, which increases the danger. Because of this, The Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania has made it his top priority to increase Internet safety. He has created a program called “Operation Safe Surf” to help educate parents and children of the dangers on the Internet and sexual predators (Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, 2010). Recent research obtained from the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General shows: • 1 in 7 kids was sexually solicited online in 2005

• 89% of sexual solicitations of youth were made in either chat rooms or through instant messaging • 13 million youth use instant messaging
• 50% of teens talk in chat rooms or use instant messaging with Internet strangers • Almost 1 in 8 youth ages 8-18 discovered they were communicating online with an adult pretending to be much younger • 30% of teenage girls have been sexually harassed in a chat room. Only 7% told their parents because they were worried they would be banned them from going online • 49% of teens have posted personal information on their Web pages – such as name, age or address • 42% of parents do not review what their teens say in chat rooms or via instant messaging • Nearly 31% of 8-18 year olds have a computer in their bedrooms and 20% have an Internet connection there

• One in ten young people have a handheld device that connects to the Internet A National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) study comparing youth online experiences in 1999-2000 with those in 2005 offered both good and bad news for those concerned with Internet safety. The good news: online youth received fewer unwanted online sexual solicitations. Only one in seven youth in 2005, compared to one in five youth in 1999-2000. The bad news: the study revealed an increase in Internet users ages 10-17 reporting exposure to unwanted pornography – fully one-third in 2005 compared to 25 percent previously. There was also an increase in online harassment, which rose to 9 percent compared to the 6 percent in the 1999-2000 survey (Garrett, 2007). Unfortunately, this problem will only get worse. With technology changing and growing daily, the issue of cyberpornography involving children will continue to increase rapidly.


Carr, J. (2003). Child abuse, child pornography and the Internet. Available at: http://www.make-it-safe.net/eng/pdf/Child_pornography_internet_Carr2004.pdf (accessed 15 October 2012). Casanova, M. F., Solursh, D., Solursh, L., Roy, E., & Thigpen, L. (2000). The History of Child Pornography on the Internet. Journal Of Sex Education & Therapy, 25(4), 245-251. Copine Project. (2003). UCC project tracks down paedophiles. Retrieved November 8, 2004, from http://www.copine.ie/press.php#16jan2003 Garrett, R. (2007). Internet Watchdogs. Retrieved from: http://www.officer.com/article/102499996/internet-watchdogs Internet Society. (2012). Brief History of the Internet. In What is the Internet? Retrieved from http://www.internetsociety.org/sites/default/files/Brief_History_of_the_Internet.pdf on November 10, 2012. Norland, R., & Bartholet, J. (2001). The Web’s dark secret. Newsweek, March 19, 2001. pp. 44-51.

O’Connell, R. (2001). Pedophiles networking on the Internet. In C.A. Arnaldo (ed.), Child Abuse on the Internet: Ending the Silence (pp. 65-79). New York: Berghahn. Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General (2010). Operation Safe Surf. Retrieved from http://www.atorneygeneral.gov/kidsparents.aspx?id=2323 on November 10, 2012. Quayle, E., Vaughan, M., & Taylor, M. (2006). Sex offenders, internet child abuse images and emotional avoidance: The importance of values. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 11, 1-11. Wells, M., Finklehor, D., Wolak, J., & Mitchell, K. J. (2007). Defining Child Pornography: Law Enforcement Dilemmas in Investigations of Internet Child Pornography Possession. Police Practice and Research, Vol. 8, No. 3, July 2007, pp. 269-282. Wolak, J., Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2006). Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, December 2006. Retrieved from http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV138.pdf on September 30, 2012. Wolak, J., Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2004). National Juvenile Online Victimization Study (N-JOV): Methodology report. Crimes Against Children Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/N-JOV2_methodology_report.pdf on November 15, 2012.

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