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The guide begins by describing the problem and reviewing factors that increase the risks of Internet child pornography. It then identifies a series of questions that might assist you in analyzing your local Internet child pornography problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem and what is known about these from evaluative research and police practice.
The treatment of children as sexual objects has existed through the ages, and so too has the production of erotic literature and drawings involving children. However, pornography in the modern sense began with the invention of the camera in the early nineteenth century. Almost immediately, sexualized images involving children were produced, traded, and collected.Even so, child pornography remained a restricted activity through most of the twentieth century. Images were usually locally produced, of poor quality, expensive, and difficult to obtain. The relaxation of censorship standards in the 1960s led to an increase in the availability of child pornography, and, by 1977, some 250 child pornography magazines were circulating in the United States, many imported from Europe.Despite concern about the extent of child pornography, law enforcement agencies had considerable success in stemming the trafficking of these traditional hard-copy forms. However, the advent of the Internet in the 1980s dramatically changed the scale and nature of the child pornography problem, and has required new approaches to investigation and control.
Internet child pornography is unlike most crimes local police departments handle. Local citizens may access child pornography images that were produced and/or stored in another city or on another continent. Alternatively, they may produce or distribute images that are downloaded by people thousands of miles away. An investigation that begins in one police district will almost certainly cross jurisdictional boundaries. Therefore, most of the major investigations of Internet child pornography have involved cooperation among jurisdictions, often at an international level.
However, within this broader scheme, local police departments have a crucial role to play. By concentrating on components of the problem that occur within their local jurisdictions, they may uncover evidence that initiates a wider investigation. Alternatively, they may receive information from other jurisdictions about offenders in their districts. Because of the increasing use of computers in society, most police departments are likely to encounter Internet child pornography crimes. Therefore, it is important that all police departments develop strategies for dealing with the problem. Larger departments or districts may have their own dedicated Internet child pornography teams, but most smaller ones do not, and the responsibility for day-to-day investigations will fall to general-duties officers.It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of local police in detecting and preventing Internet child pornography offenses. One study found that 56 percent of arrests for Internet child pornography crimes originated from non-specialized law enforcement agencies.
Internet child pornography is only one of a number of problems related to either child abuse or the Internet. Other related problems not directly addressed by this guide include:
See the POP Guide on Identity Theft.
The idea of protecting children from sexual exploitation is relatively modern. As late as the 1880s in the United States, the age of consent for girls was just 10 years.In 1977, only two states had legislation specifically outlawing the use of children in obscene material. The first federal law concerning child pornography was passed in 1978, and the first laws that specifically referred to computers and child pornography were passed in 1988. Since that time, there has been a steady tightening of child pornography laws(see Table 1).
|Table 1: Development of child pornography law in the United States|
|1978||Sexual Exploitation of Children Act||First federal law specifically dealing with child pornography. Prohibited the manufacture and commercial distribution of obscene material involving minors under 16.|
|1982||New York v. Ferber||Child pornography not protected by the First Amendment. Child pornography separated from obscenity laws, to be judged on a different standard.|
|1984||Child Protection Act||Age of minor covered by child pornography legislation was raised to 18, and distinction between child pornography and obscenity codified.|
|1986||United States v. Dost||Expanded the definition of child pornography to include sexually suggestive depictions of a lascivious nature.|
|1988||Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act||Illegal to use a computer to depict or advertise child pornography.|
|1990||Osborne v. Ohio||Private possession of child pornography ruled to be illegal.|
|1996||Child Pornography Protection Act||Definition of child pornography expanded to include virtual images of children and images that appear to be of a minor.|
|1998||Child Protector and Sexual Predator Punishment Act||Internet Service Providers (ISPs) required to report known incidents of child pornography to authorities, but not required to actively monitor customers or sites.|
|2002||Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition||Virtual images ruled not to be pornography; appear to be a minor ruled to be too broad.|
To summarize the current federal legal situation in the United States:
Most states have followed the federal lead with specific legislation, allowing state police to join federal agencies in the fight against child pornography.However, the exact nature of the legislation varies considerably among states. There is also a wide variation in international laws covering child pornography, and this can have significant implications for law enforcement.
Because legal definitions of both child and pornography differ considerably among jurisdictions, for research purposes child pornography is often defined broadly as any record of sexual activity involving a prepubescent person. Pornographic records include still photographs, videos, and audio recordings. The images themselves vary considerably in their graphic content. In some cases individuals may collect images that do not involve overt pornography and are not technically illegal. There are 10 levels of image severity:
The Internet has escalated the problem of child pornography by increasing the amount of material available, the efficiency of its distribution, and the ease of its accessibility. (See Appendix A for a summary of key terms and concepts relating to the Internet.) Specifically, the Internet:
The problem of Internet child pornography can be divided into three componentsthe production, distribution, and downloading of images. In some cases, the same people are involved in each stage. However, some producers and/or distributors of child pornography are motivated solely by financial gain and are not themselves sexually attracted to children.
This involves the creation of pornographic images. Collectors place a premium on new child pornography material. However, many images circulating on the Internet may be decades old, taken from earlier magazines and films. Images may be produced professionally, and, in these cases, often document the abuse of children in third-world countries. However, more commonly, amateurs make records of their own sexual abuse exploits, particularly now that electronic recording devices such as digital cameras and web cams permit individuals to create high quality, homemade images.With the advent of multimedia messaging (MMR) mobile phones, clandestine photography of children in public areas is becoming an increasing problem.
This involves the uploading and dissemination of pornographic images. These images may be stored on servers located almost anywhere in the world. Distribution may involve sophisticated pedophile rings or organized crime groups that operate for profit, but in many cases, is carried out by individual amateurs who seek no financial reward. Child pornography may be uploaded to the Internet on websites or exchanged via e-mail, instant messages, newsgroups, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. Efforts by law enforcement agencies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to stop the dissemination of child pornography on the Internet have led to changes in offenders methods. Child pornography websites are often shut down as soon as they are discovered, and openly trading in pornography via e-mail or chat rooms is risky because of the possibility of becoming ensnared in a police sting operation (e.g., undercover police entering chat rooms posing as pedophiles or as minor children). Increasingly those distributing child pornography are employing more sophisticated security measures to elude detection and are being driven to hidden levels of the Internet (see Table 2).
|Table 2: Distribution methods of child pornography on the Internet. |
|Web pages and websites||Specific child pornography websites may be created, or child pornography images may be embedded in general pornography sites. However, there is debate about how much child pornography is available on the web. Some argue that it is relatively easy to find images. Others argue that, because of the vigilance of ISPs and police in tracking down and closing child pornography websites, it is unlikely that a normal web search using key words such as childporn would reveal much genuine child pornography. Instead, the searcher is likely to find legal pornographic sites with adults purporting to be minors, sting operations, or vigilante sites. One strategy of distributors is to post temporary sites that are then advertised on pedophile bulletin boards. To prolong their existence these sites may be given innocuous names (e.g., volleyball) or other codes (e.g., ch*ldp*rn) to pass screening software. The websites may be immediately flooded with hits before they are closed down. Often the websites contain Zip archives, the password for which is then later posted on a bulletin board.|
|Web cam||Images of abuse may be broadcast in real time. In one documented case of a live broadcast, viewers could make online requests for particular sexual activities to be carried out on the victim.|
|E-mail attachments are sometimes used by professional distributors of child pornography, but more frequently they are used to share images among users, or they are sent to a potential victim as part of the grooming/seduction process. This method is considered risky by seasoned users because of the danger in unwittingly sending e-mails to undercover police posing as pedophiles or as potential victims.|
|E-groups||Specific child pornography e-groups exist to permit members to receive and share pornographic images and exchange information about new sites. Some of these groups appear on reputable servers and are swiftly shut down when they are detected. However, they may use code names or camouflage child pornography images among legal adult pornography to prolong their existence.|
|Newsgroups||Specific child pornography newsgroups provide members with a forum in which to discuss their sexual interests in children and to post child pornography. This is one of the major methods of distributing child pornography. Some child pornography newsgroups are well known to both users and authorities (for example, the abpep-t or alternative binaries pictures erotica pre-teen group). Most commercial servers block access to such sites. Some servers do provide access to them but a user runs the risk of having his/her identity captured either by the credit card payments required for access, or the record kept by the server of his/her IP address. However, a computer-savvy user can access these groups by using techniques that hide his/her identity by concealing his/her true IP address.|
|Bulletin Board Systems (BBS)||Bulletin boards may be used legally to host discussions that provide advice to seekers of child pornography, including the URLs of child pornography websites and ratings of those sites. These bulletin boards may be monitored by system administrators to exclude bogus or irrelevant postings, such as from vigilantes.|
|Chat rooms||Chat rooms may be used to exchange child pornography and locate potential victims. Chat rooms may be password-protected. Open chat rooms are avoided by seasoned child pornographers because they are often infiltrated by undercover police.|
|Peer-to-peer (P2P)||P2P networks facilitate file sharing among child pornography users. These networks permit closed groups to trade images.|
This involves accessing child pornography via the Internet. The images do not need to be saved to the computers hard drive or to a removable disk to constitute downloading. In some cases a person may receive spam advertising child pornography, a pop-up link may appear in unrelated websites, or he may inadvertently go to a child pornography website (e.g., by mistyping a key word). In most cases, however, users must actively seek out pornographic websites or subscribe to a group dedicated to child pornography. In fact, it has been argued that genuine child pornography is relatively rare in open areas of the Internet, and, increasingly, those seeking to find images need good computer skills and inside knowledge of where to look. Most child pornography is downloaded via newsgroups and chat rooms. Access to websites and online pedophile groups may be closed and require paying a fee or using a password.
It is difficult to be precise about the extent of Internet child pornography, but all of the available evidence points to it being a major and growing problem. At any one time there are estimated to be more than one million pornographic images of children on the Internet, with 200 new images posted daily. One offender arrested in the U.K. possessed 450,000 child pornography images. It has been reported that a single child pornography site received a million hits in a month. As noted above, one problem in estimating the number of sites is that many exist only for a brief period before they are shut down, and much of the trade in child pornography takes place at hidden levels of the Internet. It has been estimated that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 pedophiles involved in organized pornography rings around the world, and that one-third of these operate from the United States.
There is no one type of Internet child pornography user, and there is no easy way to recognize an offender. Having a preconceived idea of a child sex offender can be unhelpful and prove a distraction for investigating police. Users of Internet child pornography:
Sexual attraction to children is known as pedophilia.However, an interest in Internet child pornography may be best thought of as falling along a continuum rather than in terms of a hard and fast distinction between pedophiles and non-pedophiles. People can behave very differently on the Internet than they do in other areas of their lives. Interacting anonymously with a computer in the safety of ones own home encourages people to express hidden thoughts and desires. Offenders vary in the strength of their interest in child pornography, as well as in the level of severity of the pornographic image to which they are attracted. From a psychological perspective, based on a typology of general pornography users, the following categories of Internet child pornography users are suggested:
Variations among offenders translate into different patterns of Internet behavior. Offenders vary in the level of their involvement in Internet child pornography, the degree of networking in which they engage with other offenders, their expertise in employing security strategies to avoid detection, and the extent to which their Internet behavior involves direct sexual abuse of children. The following typology of child pornography offending has been suggested:
The vast majority of children who appear in child pornography have not been abducted or physically forced to participate.  In most cases they know the producerit may even be their fatherand are manipulated into taking part by more subtle means. Nevertheless, to be the subject of child pornography can have devastating physical, social, and psychological effects on children.
The children portrayed in child pornography are first victimized when their abuse is perpetrated and recorded. They are further victimized each time that record is accessed. In one study, 100 victims of child pornography were interviewed about the effects of their exploitationat the time it occurred and in later years. Referring to when the abuse was taking place, victims described the physical pain (e.g., around the genitals), accompanying somatic symptoms (such as headaches, loss of appetite, and sleeplessness), and feelings of psychological distress (emotional isolation, anxiety, and fear). However, most also felt a pressure to cooperate with the offender and not to disclose the offense, both out of loyalty to the offender and a sense of shame about their own behavior. Only five cases were ultimately reported to authorities. In later years, the victims reported that initial feelings of shame and anxiety did not fade but intensified to feelings of deep despair, worthlessness, and hopelessness. Their experience had provided them with a distorted model of sexuality, and many had particular difficulties in establishing and maintaining healthy emotional and sexual relationships.
The effects of pornography on users have been extensively researched but results are contentious. There are at least five possible relationships between pornography use and the sexual abuse of children:
In all likelihood, the effects of child pornography vary among users, and all of the above relationships may apply depending upon the individual in question.
Computers and their associated services retain a considerable amount of evidence of their use. Determined, computer-savvy offenders may take precautions to cover their tracks, but many offenders will have neither the foresight nor the necessary expertise to do so, and will leave a trail of incriminating evidence.
Internet child pornography presents some unique challenges for law enforcement agencies. These challenges include:
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