Child Pornography and the Internet: Policing and Treatment Issues

Article excerpt

A recent increase in the number of referrals for individuals who have accessed child pornography over the Internet has led to a need for clinicians to familiarise themselves with the language and concepts associated with this type of sexual offence. A brief review of the area highlights the legal dilemmas posed by the nature of the Internet. While definitional issues are a primary focus in legal processes, a demonstrated sexual arousal to children is more relevant in therapy. Modifications of traditional treatment approaches are suggested to facilitate therapeutic progress for this population. Discussion focuses on the early motivation for treatment, cognitive distortions, victim impact and cycles of offending behaviour. This work is offered as an early intervention to prevent potential future progression to hands-on sexual offending against children.


"Sex" is the most searched topic on the Internet (Cooper, Scherer, Boeis, & Gordon, 1999). In cyber-space it is possible to discuss sex, see live sex acts and arrange sexual activities in complete privacy. Individuals can choose to participate in sex related discussions on the chat channels, as well as to exchange images with other users. Some child sex offenders use these services to access, trade and create child pornography, to meet and offend against potential victims, to network with other offenders, to profit financially and to locate individuals with similar interests (Cullen 1997; Zwicke, 2000). However, according to O'Connell (2001), the trading of child pornography/erotica is perhaps the most visible and distinctive feature of pedophilic activity on the Internet.

Over recent times, an increased number of referrals to the Sexual Offender Treatment and Assessment Program (SOTAP) for individuals who have accessed child pornography on the Internet, has shown the need for clinicians to better understand the language and concepts of the Internet that are raised in the therapeutic context. In order to more fully understand the process our clients had followed in accessing child pornography on the Internet, we called on the expertise of the Child Exploitation Investigation Service, a specialist division of the South Australian Police Department. This paper is the culmination of our joint research and aims to highlight some practical considerations in the policing of child pornography on the Internet, as well as to briefly describe the therapeutic approach devised by SOTAP.

Child Pornography

The Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) relates to offences committed in South Australia. Section 33 of this Act defines child pornography as indecent or offensive material in which a child (whether engaged in sexual activity or not) is depicted or described in a way that is likely to cause serious and general offence amongst reasonable adult members of the community. Here, a child refers to a person who is under, or apparently under, the age of 16 years. However, according to Section 33 (5) of the Summary Offences Act, any material with medical, legal, scientific or artistic merit cannot be considered child pornography unless there is undue emphasis on its indecent or offensive aspects.

The relevant legislation in other Australian states is similar to the South Australian legislation. For example, Section 578 of the Crimes Act 1900 of New South Wales defines child pornography as a film, publication, or computer game that describes or depicts a child under, or apparently under, the age of 16 years in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult.

Child pornography on the Internet is available in many different formats, ranging from pictures, anime (cartoon) and video, to sound files and stories (Akdeniz, 1997). Most pornographic material is distributed via email, newsgroups or World Wide Web pages. Child pornography is also distributed during conversations in chat rooms and interactive home pages, and personally via diskettes or CD-ROM's (National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 2000). …