Understanding and Preventing Online Sexual Exploitation of Children

Understanding and Preventing Online Sexual Exploitation of Children

Understanding and Preventing Online Sexual Exploitation of Children

Understanding and Preventing Online Sexual Exploitation of Children


Over the last decade there has been dramatically increased interest in the ways that technology has been used in the abuse and exploitation of children, due in part to increasing numbers of convictions for child pornography-related offenses.

Opinion swings between those who feel that there is a danger of distorting the threat posed to children by technology, and those for whom it appears that the threat has been grossly underestimated. Current literature surrounding the debate at times seems to create more questions than answers and what quickly becomes apparent is that the data we have to inform our understanding is partial, potentially context specific, and at times seemingly contradictory.

This book broadens our understanding of the complex nature of online sexual exploitation of children and considers the risk that those engaged in Internet-related offences pose to children in both the online and offline environments. It focuses on cutting-edge research and conceptual thinking that views perpetrators within context, examines those impacted by such offending, describes emerging legal and policy issues, and proposes innovative strategies for prevention within a dynamic global environment.

Understanding and Preventing Online Sexual Exploitation of Children responds to the growing call for help across all practice areas, from judicial to therapeutic, and will provide an invaluable resource for practitioners and policy makers working in the field, as well as students and academics studying sexual exploitation and cyber crime.


I have been a prosecutor for nearly twenty-five years, and in my career I have handled a full range of criminal offenses, everything from simple larceny to international drug trafficking. I have incarcerated rapists, airline hijackers, armed career criminals, and corrupt federal agents. From my experience with these cases, an offender’s motive, intent, and purpose are generally clear from the facts and easily grasped. The grade of seriousness attributed to these offenses is not a matter of real dispute. And, when it comes to sentencing factors, lawyers, probation officers, and sentencing judges typically disagree only at the margins. Child pornography collectors, however, seem to stand in distinct contrast to this norm because the seriousness of their crimes is not commonly understood.

Within the realm of judges, lawyers, and probation officers in the United States, child pornography offenders are currently the subject of significant debate, largely flowing from differing opinions concerning how dangerous these offenders are. For those of us who are witness to these crimes through investigation and prosecution, however, evidence suggests that many of these offenders are quite dangerous, especially if they participate in an online group, forum, or social networking site centered on pedophilic interests. In these online forums the discussion of child sexual abuse flows as freely as might the discussion of hydrangeas in a gardening forum. The talk in child abuse forums, however, is distinctively worrisome. In one online group investigated recently, for instance, a member posted a survey asking, “have you thought about whether or not you would abduct a preteen girl/boy,” with over 50 percent of the responders answering, “I would absolutely do it” or “if the circumstances were right, I’d do it.” In another investigation, a member of an online assemblage of producers and traders of child pornography talked about how he was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to molest his daughter, who had not been born yet. He posted a message exclaiming “o man do I have some news I have a new baby about to be added to the game I will share her pics when I get some.” Shortly thereafter, a sonogram image of his unborn daughter in the womb was posted. And a member of yet another online forum posted a solicitation to his fellow members offering to pay $1,000 per hour, up to a maximum of $50,000, for access to a child, with the restriction that the child be a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl between 7 and 9 years of age.

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