Computer Crime Research Center


Child pornography: an international perspective

Date: August 02, 2004
Source: United Stated Embassy Stockholm
By: Margaret A Healy

... and in the Netherlands was produced by sex tourists visiting Asia. Some of that material has now been replaced by child pornography produced in Eastern Europe. Telephone Interview with Helena Karlen, Swedish Save the Children (March, 1996) Members of the military assigned to other countries have also played a role. According to the U.S. Justice Department, military personnel stationed in Guam and the Philippines have been prosecuted for possession of child pornography. Often the same personnel have participated in the production of the material.

The development of new technology has made a tremendous impact on the international production and distribution of child pornography. The first important leap in technology was the video camera. Video cameras and camcorders are now less expensive and are relatively common in many homes in industrialised countries. Because the recording media does not have to be commercially processed, and can be easily duplicated, individuals enjoy complete privacy. As a result, amateur pornographic videos have become increasingly common.

In the United Kingdom, detecting the possession and distribution of pornographic home videos featuring children continues to be an important priority of law enforcement officials. Likewise, most of the new child pornography currently seized by the U.S. Postal Service is still contained in homemade videos. U.S. officials believe, however, that with the advent of advanced technology, it will be just a matter of time before this amateur materials will be available on the Internet.


Computer technology has transformed the production of child pornography into a sophisticated global cottage The term is used here to denote that technology has facilitated the production and distribution of child pornography in the home. industry. Anyone who has access to a computer and a modem potentially has access to commercial on-line services and to the Internet, a remarkable global network of nearly 30 million persons joined by computers. Among many other things, such access means that it is possible both to send and receive pornography. The Internet is becoming an increasingly significant factor in child sexual exploitation and the development of increasingly inexpensive personal computers and modems has given ascent to what is rapidly becoming the most important exchange medium for child pornography.

A brief review of the new computer technology and its possibilities will offer an idea of the revolution that has occurred.

"Pictures can be scanned and video clips can be captured into a computer without any loss of quality either over time or when copies are made. It is now possible to attach these images and video clips to e-mail text. Non-colour digital cameras are available in the United States for US$99 and colour scanners (devices that can convert photographs, slides, negatives, and text into computer characters) for US$200. A video capture device is available for US$129. This device makes it possible to record images from a video camera or a VCR directly into the computer. A new generation of "Internet dedicated" computers are being developed with a targeted price of US$500.

"Anonymity is available on the Internet. A user can manufacture virtually any identity and route a message from Pennsylvania, through Australia, to Germany and then to Kansas where it would be impossible to determine the origination. It is also possible to re-route e-mail and images through what are referred to as "anonymous remailers." These take incoming messages and remove the source address, assign an anonymous identification code number with the remailer's address, and forward it to the final destination. Responses to the anonymous messages are then similarly encoded and the responder likewise remains anonymous. The most popular of these "remailers" among on-line paedophiles is located in Finland.

"The industry is experiencing a rapid development in cheap, user-friendly encryption software which is employed by child pornographers. Decoding the files is often extremely difficult for law enforcement agencies.

"The Internet can be used to make contacts with other paedophiles and child molesters and is used to distribute home made and commercial child pornography around the world. An individual may now trade and/or sell images of almost any kind from one end of the world to the other.

"Even if law enforcement officials discover the image, the ability to distribute it may not be impaired. Once an image is introduced on the Internet, it can be downloaded by any number of users and can be reproduced repeatedly without any loss of quality.

"Advanced technology is making transmission increasingly faster. High speed modems of 28,800 bits per second ("BPS") are currently available but soon it will be possible to boost that capacity to 550,000 BPS via high speed modems using cable television wire. This is significant because transmission and downloading of images can be time consuming and therefore costly.

"Computer bulletin boards can be set up exclusively to exchange information about sexual interest in minors or specifically to allow for running conversations by computer on such subjects. Monitoring of such sex oriented bulletin boards has indicated that these boards receive thousands of calls. In most countries, neither licences nor registration for bulletin boards is required.

"Letter writing by paedophiles, extensive in the past, is now being replaced by much more rapidly transmitted computer conversations. Despite increasing use of computers by paedophiles, according to the U.S. Postal Service, pornographers still rely heavily on the mails to exchange video tapes and computer diskettes.

"Computers now come with built in microphones and speakers and will soon be routinely equipped with cameras. Monitors also frequently come with built-in speakers and microphones. This equipment will enhance the capacity for production and distribution of home videos.

"Images can now be altered by computer. For example, it is not difficult to add objects to an image. One can also delete objects or parts of a photo. An individual may superimpose a child's face on an adult's body, erase pubic hair or facial hair, and reduce and minimise breasts so as to make adult images look like children.

"While it is still impossible to create entirely computer generated images that appear lifelike, it is, however, possible to insert digital images of a person into a video in which they have not appeared. Technology will soon be able to facilitate the creation of lifelike child pornography without using any real children at all.

Furthermore, on-line capability greatly increases the possibility of extended contact--up to hundreds of hours--with children, by child molesters or paedophiles. Sex exploiters have easy access to children via computer--especially lonely or troubled teens--by tuning into chat sessions, such as Internet Relay Chat, and making contact with children. The most commonly used technique for seducing the child into sexual activity is by capitalising on the child's natural need for attention, affection and approval. According to the FBI and other law enforcement agents, a small but rising number of these computer relationships end up with actual contact and sexual activity with the teen.

The problem of computer child pornography involves persons who have the time, the resources, the intelligence and perhaps a compulsion to acquire expertise in the technology. They are from every walk of life. Children in many developed countries are some of the most sophisticated computer operators. They have grown up with computers and have often far surpassed their parents in expertise. These children already have fairly easy access to computer child pornography and are potentially accessible through the Internet and some commercial on-line services to those who wish to sexually exploit minors. In addition, software programs which are designed to block children's access to questionable material are capable of being defeated by children who have acquired advanced computer skills.

Computerised child pornography is of the highest concern in industrialised countries where computers have become commonplace in schools, in the workplace and in the home. Access to computers, however, is increasing globally. In Australia, according to a 1995 survey, only about 10% of Australian residences had the necessary computer and modem for obtaining child pornography on line. Nonetheless, Australian law enforcement officials agree that as computers become more available and user-friendly and as the computer literate population steadily rises, the use of home computers to produce and distribute child pornography will increase.


Experts cite several reasons why individuals collect child pornography. U.S. Senate Report, supra note 7, at 10-12.

1. Arousal and gratification: Individuals use pornography to stimulate their sexual drive and to aid in sexual stimulation. Some may only fantasise and others may use it as a prelude to actual sexual activity with minors.

2. Validation and justification of paedophile behaviour: The paedophile uses pornography to convince him/her self that their behaviour or obsession is not abnormal, but is shared by thousand of other sensitive, intelligent and caring people.

3. To lower a child's inhibitions: Child abusers use pictures of other children having sex to assist in the seduction of a child and encourage reluctant children to freely participate. Images are often used as a way to show a child what the offender wants the...
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