What Is The Problem? What Difference Does The Net Make? What Is The Law In The UK? What Is The Law In The USA? What Kind Of Cases Have Come To Court? What Can Be Done? Further Reading
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
The Internet is overwhelmingly a power for good. It provides cheap and easy access every moment of every day to a vast reservoir of information and entertainment and it is transforming the nature of commerce and government. However, with so many users world-wide accessing so many web sites, there is bound to some offensive, and even illegal, use of the Net.
Pornography is a major element of the Internet. It comes in many forms and in large volume.
In his booklet “Sex On The Net”, Yaman Akdeniz explains that the Web offers “photographs, erotic text and audio stories, video clips including live feeds, live sex chat, and almost any format or scenario imaginable from straight sex to gay and lesbian to fetish and ultra hard-core sexual encounters, side by side with specialised themes such as Asian babes and celebrity porn”.
Porn on the Net is big business.
The Online Computer Library Centre's annual review found that, in 2001, there were 74,000 adult web sites or some 2% of all sites on the Web. Together they generated profits of more than $1 billion. According to Forrester Research, by the middle of the decade, their revenues were expected to be over $5 billion. Tha advent of high speed Internet connection via mobiles is expected to be a major generator of new business.
In January 2000, the world's first Internet sex convention was held in Las Vegas and, in spite of tickets at $275 each, more than 5,000 people attended to buy state-of-the-art technology and to strike deals.
For some, the use of such sites is compulsive. The March 2000 issue of the American journal "Sexual Addiction And Compulsion" estimated that 1% of the visitors to sex sites - some 200,000 - are "cybersex compulsives". The researchers defined such people as those who spent more than 11 hours a week visiting sexually-orientated areas and scored high on a 10-item questionnaire about relationships and attitudes toward sex.
However, while some may find much of this sexual material offensive, most of it is legal. The exceptions are child pornography, extreme sado-masochism, bestiality and necrophilia.
The main problem relates to child pornography - better and more accurately described as child abuse images - where in Britain as elsewhere mere possession of such material is illegal. In 2009, a United Nations report by UNICEF estimated that there are more than four million web sites featuring minors, including those of children aged under two years, and it was said that more than 200 new images are circulated daily. The report warned that about 750,000 sexual predators are constantly prowling the Internet in a bid to gain contact with children and estimated that between 10,000 and 100,000 minors are victims of the child pornography network. The report assessed that the production and distribution of such images generates between $3 billion and $20 billion a year.
These are simply not images of adolescent girls and boys, but often pictures of very young childre. Arrests in the United States for the possession of child pornography, during a one-year period from 2000 to 2001, produced alarming results. According to investigators, the majority of those arrested had images of children who had not yet reached puberty. Specifically, 83% had pornographic material that involved children between ages 6 and 12; 39% had material involving children between ages 3 and 5; and 19% had images of infants or toddlers under age 3.
Some indication of the size and seriousness of the problem was demonstrated by an international police exercise called "Operation Cathedral". On 2 September 1998, police raided 15 homes in Britain, while simultaneously other police forces raided premises in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the USA (forces in Canada, Denmark and The Netherlands pulled out at the last moment).
The operation was targeted against a paedophile ring of 180 members which called itself "w0nderland" (the letter 'o' was replaced by the figure '0' deliberately as a kind of code). The w0nderland club was named after Lewis Carroll's Alice books. To become a member of this ring, one had to contribute at least 10,000 new images of child pornography. The club was protected by powerful gatekeeping and encryption devices, including a computer program called Alice - another reference to Lewis Carroll. The police operation yielded an array of "horrific" images totalling 750,000 and computerised videos numbering 1,800. A total of 1,236 children featured in the pictures and videos. Internationally, there were 107 arrests - nine of them in Britain. The originator of w0nderland was found to be an American living in New York called Peter Giordano and nicknamed Hairy Mudd.
Early in 2001, there was an major FBI exercise in the United States called "Operation Candyman", named after one of three Yahoo! groups (the others were Shangri-la and Girls 12 to 16). The operation focused on approximately 6,700 members of the three groups and an initial 89 arrests were followed a few months later by 14 more, including at least one policeman.
More recently, it has become apparent that those providing and circulating child abuse images on the Internet are using ever more sophisticated technology and security which presents a major challenge to law enforcement agencies. This was particularly the case with a group known as the 'Shadowz Brotherhood' that was the subject of an international police intelligence operation called "Operation Twins" which resulted on 2 July 2002 in some 50 arrests in seven countries.
Although the UK's newly -created National Hi-Tech Crime Unit took the 'lead agency status', the operation involved police forces in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden, UK and USA. The group showed an awareness of some of the methods and tactics used by law enforcement and used specific tactics designed to prevent detection and identification.
These tactics included use of a server owned by an individual rather than a company, periodic change in the site of the server, use of proxy servers to hide the identification of the members, extensive use of passwords, and deployment of encryption techniques such as PGP (pretty good privacy) and stenanography (embedding a file within another file), plus a hierarchical structure to the operation whereby members would be supervised by 'admins' and a 'castle' structure whereby users would receive a 'star' rating which would define what the member could provide and to what he would have access.
Another very high profile instance of child abuse images on the Net arose from an investigation by the United States authorities of a web site portal called Landside run by married couple in Forth Worth, Texas called Thomas and Janice Reedy. This provided access to child abuse images on some 30 sites, primarily in Russia and Indonesia. It was a huge operation generating revenues of $9.2M a year with a gross profit of $2.9M a year. In 2001, Reedy was convicted on 89 counts and sentenced to 1,335 years in prison but, in 2002, this was reduced on appeal to 180 years.
As part of "Operation Avalanche", the authorities obtained credit card details of customers of child pornography totalling around 250,000 in some 60 countries. Around 35,000 of these were in the USA.
Some 7,250 of them are located in the UK and, starting in May 2002, a series of raids has been conducted by local police forces under the general heading of "Operation Ore", resulting - by April 2004 - in:
Among those charged have been 50 police officers. The most high profile British customer of this site has been the rock star Pete Townsend who subsequently received a police caution and whose name was added to the Sex Offenders' Register for five years.
Some people imagine that these child abuse images 'simply' involve teenagers - which, of, course, would be bad enough. However, the images often involve very young children. In one American study of offenders, it was found that 83% had images involving children ages 6 to 12, nearly 40% had material involving youngsters ages 3 to 5, and 19% had images of children under 3.
Originally child pornography was found mostly in newsgroups which are on-line forums for people to discuss subjects of their interest (such newsgroups are known collectively as Usenet after the network which hosts them). The experience of Britain and elsewhere is that a very small number of such newsgroups accounts for a very substantial percentage of child pornography in the Usenet environment. More recently, however, most child pornography has been found in web sites with other material occurring in community groups. The most recent development has been the growing use of peer-to-peer file sharing software - such as KaZaA, Morpheus and Grokster - to exchange child abuse images.
Although so far in Britain the main problem relating to child abuse has been the downloading of child pornography, experience from the United States suggests that we will also have a growing problem of child contact via the Internet.
The first case in the USA, involving the conviction of a paedophile who made contact with his victim on the Internet, has been the subject of a book called "Katie.com". In May 2002, the body of 13 year old Christine Long was discovered in Greenwich, Connecticut, USA. Police allege that she was strangled by a 25 year old man that she met on-line.
A high-profile case of this kind in the UK occurred in April 2000 when a 13 year old girl, Georgina Mostyn-Scott (whom I have met), arranged to see a friend that she had made through chatrooms, originally believing him to be a 15 year old boy. In fact, the individual was a 47 year old man and the incident was not more serious because of the presence and intervention of the girl's mother at the Milton Keynes meeting place. Georgina and her parents are now active supporters of Cyberangels.
The potential extent of the problem was highlighted recently in a report by the Cyberspace Research Centre, which conducted a survey of 1,400 children from 42 schools in the UK. It discovered that 20% of children aged between nine and 16 use chatrooms on a regular basis. Furthermore, more than 50% of the children reported that they have engaged in conversations of a sexual nature; and 25% had received requests to meet up with their correspondents face-to-face. Of the latter group, 10% had accepted and actually met up with someone they had first got to know in a chatroom.
Although the problem of sex on the Net revolves mainly around children, there is an element of adult pornography that rightly causes deep concern and that is material which depicts non-consensual sex, such as violence against women - including rape and murder - and necrophilia. This issue became particularly prominent in the UK in February 2004 with the conviction of Graham Coutts for the horrific murder of teacher Jane Longhurst. The court heard how Coutts had repeatedly accessed Web sites depicting violent sex and how elements of his actions mirrored what he had seen on-line. Some of the sites mentioned in the trial were "necrobabes”, “hangingbitches” and "deathbyasphyxia”.
None of these sites was hosted in the UK. However, when I was interviewed for television by Jane Longhurst's sister, Sue Barnett, obviously she did not regard this as a reason to do nothing about such appallling sites. Indeed, subsequently it has been made illegal in the UK to view such extreme adult pornography.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THE NET MAKE?
Of course, as long as we have had pornography, we have had child pornography. What is the difference when child pornography is on the Internet? There are at least three differences.
WHAT IS THE LAW IN THE UK?
The UK does not have a written constitution, but the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights are now incorporated into UK law and all domestic legislation has to be in conformity with the Convention.
The relevant legislation in Britain is:
The Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 and 1964
The principal control on obscene material in the UK is the 1959 Act which also applies to material passing over the Internet. Under the Act, it is a criminal offence to publish any article whose effect, taken as a whole, is such, in the view of the court, to tend to “deprave and corrupt” those likely to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it. This offence is subject to a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
In addition to the criminal offence, the 1959 Act also provides a forfeiture procedure under which articles which are believed to be obscene and kept for publication for gain may be seized by the police under a magistrates' warrant and brought before the magistrates for forfeiture. Unlike a criminal prosecution, forfeiture proceedings do not require it to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that a published article is obscene, as the magistrates simply have to be “satisfied” that an article is obscene.
The Protection of Children Act of 1978
The Act provides separate controls on child pornography. Under this Act, it is a criminal offence to take, permit to be taken, distribute, show, advertise or possess for distribution any indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child under the age of 16. The legislation does not define “indecent” and it is left to the courts to interpret its meaning.
The Criminal Justice Act of 1988
Section 160 of this Act also made the simple possession of indecent photographs of children an offence. The courts have interpreted accessing of child abuse images on-line as possession.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994
These controls were updated in the 1994 Act by amending the definition of “photograph” to include data stored on a computer disc or by other electronic means which is capable of conversion into a photograph. This Act also amended the law to introduce the concept of “pseudo-photograph” which means an image, whether generated by computer graphics or otherwise, which appears to be a photograph.
Until recently, the maximum penalty for possession was six months' imprisonment and for distribution was three years imprisonment. However, these maximum sentences were low by international standards and the Government has now enacted legislation - through the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act - that increases the penalties for possession to 5 years and for distribution to 10 years.
Two fundamental points to make are that:
As far as the chatroom problem is concerned, it would probably be difficult to sustain a prosecution for on-line activities but, once contact is planned or achieved in the real world, then a range of charges may be appropriate such as conspiracy, abduction, indecent assault or unlawful sexual intercourse. The relevant laws include the Sexual Offences Act and the Child Abduction Act.
WHAT IS THE LAW IN THE USA?
Any legislation in the USA has to be in compliance with the provisions of the US Constitution. In respect of pornography, the most relevant part of the Constitution is the First Amendment on freedom of expression.
The relevant legislation in the United States is:
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA)
This Act sought to criminalise the "display" of "patently offensive" speech "in the manner available to a person [younger than] 18 years of age". In 1997, the Supreme Court overturned key provisions of the Act on the grounds that they were in breach of the First Amendment. The case was ACLU v Reno, where the plaintiff was the American Civil Liberties Union and the defendant was the US Attorney-General Janet Reno.
Link: ruling on CDA click here
The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA)
This Act amends the definition of child pornography in the Child Protection Act of 1984 to include that which actually depicts the sexual conduct of real children and that which appears to be a depiction of a child engaged in sexual conduct. In December 1999, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco found that two provisions of the Act are not in accordance with the First Amendment. These two provisions concern what might be called “virtual child pornography” – that is, computer-generated images rather than photographs of actual children. In April 2002, the Supreme Court confirmed that these provisions of the Act are in breach of the First Amendment.
Link: ruling on CPPA click here
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA)
This Act seeks to prohibit Web site operators from making pornographic or otherwise “obscene” images available to children. The Supreme Court struck down the first version of this law and later refused to sign off on its replacement which has never taken effect. In March 2004, the Supreme Court took a second look this legislation which would make it a crime for commercial Web sites knowingly to place material that is "harmful to minors" within their unrestricted reach.
Guide to COPPA click here
As if all this was not complicated enough, there are seven states that have not yet enacted laws prohibiting the possession of child pornography which makes it particularly difficult to deal with Internet-related child pornography.
WHAT KIND OF CASES HAVE COME TO COURT?
Few few cases involving adult pornography on the Internet have come before UK courts. However, in October 2000 Stephane Perrin was found guilty of publishing an obscene article and sentenced to 30 months imprisonment. The 'article' in question was a web page featuring people covered in faeces.
However, there have been a whole series of cases involving child pornography.
The most infamous case was that arising from the international "Operation Cathedral". In this country, there were nine arrests- one individual committed suicide - and seven were sentenced at Kingston crown court on 13 February 2001, receiving terms of imprisonment of only between 12 and 30 months.
Another high profile case involved the former glam rock star Gary Glitter (real name Paul Gadd). When he took his computer to PC World in Bristol, the technician found that the drive contained some 4,000 photographs of young children. In November 1999, Glitter admitted 54 charges of possessing child pornography downloaded from the Internet and was sentenced to four months in prison.
Another recent case in the UK was the conviction of Inland Revenue computer expert Simon Thomas from Nottingham. It was found that, over a period of 10 years, he collected some 22,000 pornographic pictures from the Internet, some of which featured children as young as two engaged in sex acts with adults. He was sentenced to imprisonment for four months.
In Britain - unlike the United States - the making, distribution or possession of an indecent pseudo image of a child is illegal. In March 2002, Graham Smith and Mike Jayson both failed in their appeals against convictions for such an offence.
One ‘grey’ area of the law is the liability of Internet service providers in relation to the hosting of pornographic material. In May 1998, Felix Somm – general manager of the German arm of CompuServe (now owned by AOL) – was found guilty in a Munich district court of disseminating pornographic writing in 13 related cases of newsgroups. He was given a two year suspended prison sentence and fined DM100,000 (£33,000). However, in November 1999, in an appeal court he was found not guilty of complicity in distributing illegal material because he had failed to block access to the newgroups.
Hackers Against Child Pornography click here
Ethical Hackers Against Paedophilia click here
As far as the chatroom problem is concerned, the first UK case to result in a prosecution came to court in October 2000. Patrick Green, a 33 year old exports clerk from Iver Heath, logged on to a chatroom called 'Younger Girls for Older Men'. Here he posed as a 15 year old boy and exchanged messages with a 13 year old girl for two months, before meeting her and abusing her. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment and put on the sex offenders' register for life.
In August 2000, Peter Ashford - a a 48 year old driver delivering chemicals to schools in Norfolk - was found guilty of having sex with two 14 year old girls in a Chichester hotel bedroom, having first made contact with them in teenage chatrooms. He was jailed for eight years and place on the sex offenders' register for life.
A case in June 2003 was remarkable, both for the tenacity of the abuser and the leniency of the sentence. Michael Wheeler, a 36 year old from Cambridge, abused two 13 year old girls after initially making contact with them through a chat room. The electronics engineer contacted the first girl when she was 11 and then groomed her for two years before having sex with her. The abuse of the two girls continued for about nine months and he made contact with several other of the girls' friends. The police believed that Wheeler deliberately waited until the girls were 13 before having intercourse with them, since such an offence carries a maximunm sentence of two years, whereas unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 attracts a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
In October 2003, a paedophile, branded by the press as the world's worst chatroom 'groomer', was convicted in south west London, after it was shown that he had drawn up personal profiles on no less than 73 girls that he had contacted through chatrooms. Douglas Lindsell, aged 64, was jailed for attempted abduction, gross indecency and sexual harassment.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
In the United States, since 1995 there has been a special unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), called Innocent Images, which is devoted to tracking down those who use the Internet to exploit sexually children and teenagers. This is now a $10 million a year operation with agents in every field office in the country.
In many countries, there are 'hotlines' which can receive and investigate cases of suspected child pornography. In Britain, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has been set up by UK Internet service providers, with the backing of the Government, to run such an operation [for an introduction to the IWF click here] . If, in the view of the IWF, the reported material is potentially criminal, a notice is issued to the ISP hosting the material which will then take it down. All the relevant evidence is then passed to the police, in the case of UK-originated material.
Around the world, but especially in Europe and North America, there are similar hotline operations. A full list with links can be found on the homepage of the web site of the IWF.
In the United States, the hotline operation is called CyberTipline [click here]. Reports involving suspected or anticipated abuse of children are referred to the Exploited Child Unit (ECU) of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) which offers appropriate technical asistance to the relevant law enforcement officials. Subsequent to law enforcement "review and release" or review and seven days lapse from date of receipt, ECU refers leads on child pornography to the appropriate Internet service provider (ISP) for "Terms of Service" (TOS) action.
Interpol set up an electronic library of child sex victims at its headquarters in Lyon, France. The 750,000 images obtained through Operation Cathderal were passed to Interpol for this library.
Another approach is for parents and teachers to use filtering software to block access to sites with particular ratings [for more information on rating and filtering click here].
A United Nations-led initiative to combat Internet child pornography is called "Innocence in Danger". It is proceeding under the auspices of a group called Wired Kids which also addresses "digital divide" issues of equitable access and education for children.
Many British organisations have produced on-line advice to parents, teachers and carers about the dangers to children in using the Internet and how to make this experience a safe one. This advice includes:
The problem of extreme adult pornography is more complex because there is not the same global consensus about what material is unacceptable and should be illegal. Much of the imagery is, in fact, fake or staged.
In my view, all jurisdictions - but most especially the United States (where most of the problematic material is hosted) - need to review the adequacy of their laws and the effectiveness of the enforcement of those laws. Ultimately, however, the law cannot provide anything more than a very partial solution.
Therefore, when grossly offensive material is brought to their attention, hosting companies should ask themselves whether they really want to host such material. Understandably such companies do not want to appear to be acting as moral guardians or censors. However, I believe that, where the creation of such material involves abuse or harm or where viewing such material may well encourage or incite the viewer to commit harm, there is an obligation on the company to think very hard about their responsibility.
Last modified on 1 May 2010 (but no longer up-dated)
Note 1: Do lookers become abusers?
The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is the federal law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service with responsibility for investigating crimes involving the US mail including all child pornography and child sexual exploitation offences. More and more, it has been found that child pornographers and molesters are using the Internet. In fiscal year 2001, the USPIS found that 78% of the child exploitation cases investigated by Postal Inspectors involved computers.
During the fiscal year 1997, the USPIS began compiling statistical information on the number of child pornography suspects that were also child molesters. Of the first 1,207 individuals arrested by Postal Inspectors since 1997 for using the mail and the Internet sexually to exploit children, actual child molesters were identified in 36% of cases. Since the USPIS frequently target those with prior convictions for sex offences, it may be that this figure somewhat overstates the proportion of users of child pornography as a whole who are likely to engage in actual abuse, but it is still a worrying statistic.
In 2005 the report, "Child-Pornography Possessors Arrested in Internet-Related Crimes: Findings From the National Juvenile Online Victimization Study", was authored by researchers Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, and Kimberly Mitchell from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes against Children Research Center, with funding from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and U.S. Department of Justice.
This report found that 40% of arrested child pornography possessors were “dual offenders,” who sexually victimized children and possessed child pornography, with both crimes discovered in the same investigation. An additional 15% were dual offenders who attempted to sexually victimize children by soliciting undercover investigators who posed online as minors.
Link: University of New Hampshire report click here
In 2006, a study was conducted at the Federal Correctional Institution in America by psychologists Michael L Bourke and Andrew E Hernadez who compared two groups of men taking part in a voluntary treatment programme for sex off enders at a medium security prison. All 155 had been sentenced for the possession, distribution or receipt of child-abuse images. Only 40 of these men were known to have committed any hands-on sexual offences previously, averaging 1.88 victims each. The remaining men claimed never to have committed any such offences: their activities, they said, had been restricted to the viewing of images.
However, after participating in an 18-month intensive therapeutic programme, a very different picture emerged. After the treatment, it emerged that the number of men admitting to hands-on sexual abuse increased from 40 to 131. Their average number of disclosed victims rose to 13.56 (8.7 for the 115 men who had previously denied any offences). Overall, the number of admitted contact sexual offences increased by 2,369%.
Link: British article on this unpublished report click here
Here in the UK, David Findlater - director of the Wolvercote Clinic, which provided sex offender treatment before it had to close - told the "Observer" of 20 October 2002: "I am sure the Internet could lead to a substantial rise in offences. It delivers material into the home, putting ideas into peope's heads. At Wolvercote, we learnt how quickly, using the Internet, men moved from fantasising about abusing adolescents through to baby abuse and bondage. The fact that what they are watching is an abuse actually taking place can make them think about doing it themselves".
In the 2003 book "Policing Paedophiles On The Internet", there is a chapter by Joe Sullivan and Anthony Beech entitled ""Are Collectors Of Child Abuse Images A Risk To Children?" Sullivan is principal therapist for the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and works extensively with sex offenders, and Beech is a Reader in Criminological Psychology at the University of Birmingham and a lead researcher with the Sex Offender Treatment Evaluation Project. Having examined three contemporary models of sexual abuse, they conclude the charpter with the following assessment: "We do not believe that everyone who masturbates to indecent images of children has or will inevitably engage in contact sexual abuse of children, but, in our opinion, this process will have the effect of reducing the collectors' inhibitors to contact sexual offending, and therefore make it increasingly more likely they will seek to act out their fantasies".