Computer Crime Research Center

The Internet: A Breeding Ground for Online Pedophiles

Date: January 17, 2005
Source: Computer Crime Research Center
By: Robert B. Fried

Have you ever had the opportunity to watch a youngster play on the computer? It’s amazing how they instinctively move the mouse or bang on the keyboard. Ask any grandparent and they are most likely to say that their grandchildren are light years ahead of them when it comes to technology. Children just seem to have a knack for computers. A Computer can definitely be great learning tool for a growing child. However, there is something that all parents should know before they bring this technology into their home and to their child’s fingertips. The personal computer has become the latest tool utilized by offenders in their quest to exploit vulnerable children who venture off into their new virtual playgrounds.

A majority of children generally use the computer to play games or to do homework. However, with the recent growth of the Internet, specifically the World Wide Web, more children are beginning to take a journey into cyberspace. In a recent study conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), “by 2002 some 45 million children will be surfing the net@ [1].

The Internet provides a wealth of information. As a result, many children utilize the Internet for school related research or to simply improve their understanding or knowledge of a subject of interest or study. As more children sign online and become “netizens”, the potential for exploitation by offenders seeking these vulnerable subjects increases. In fact, .the very same offenders that once combed the playgrounds seeking victims now lurk into cyberspace” [2].

Besides schoolwork, many youngsters are also beginning to utilize the Internet to communicate with family or friends that may be located around the block or even throughout the world. There are many ways one can go about communicating with others on the Internet. A Bulletin board service, for example, allows for its users to dial into a central computer and post/read messages or even engage in conversation with others who have been granted access by the system administrator. Today, active bulletin board services are rare; now, most people resort to .chat rooms. or a multi-user chat system known as Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Here, individuals can engage in conversations on an endless number of subjects or issues [3]. It is also here were many offenders prey on vulnerable youngsters. One such example is known as a .chicken hawk., which refers to .an online pedophile who uses chat lines and member profiles to locate potential victims, sometimes posing as another youth to establish a bond” [4].

There are different ways in which an offender can exploit a vulnerable child in cyberspace. Many offenders resort to seduction to lure their victims in. "These individuals are often willing to devote considerable amounts of time, money and energy in this process. They listen to and empathize with the problems of children. They will be aware of the latest music, hobbies, and interests of children” [3]. In a sense, these individuals are attempting to build up a virtual relationship/friendship where in reality they can eventually gain the child’s trust.

Many of these offenders ultimately seek to sexually exploit the children they encounter online. These individuals are referred to as "online" pedophiles."The pedophile is an adult who has either heterosexual or homosexual preferences for young boys or girls in a specific, limited age range” [4]. Online pedophiles fall into two categories: the dabbler or the preferential offender. The dabbler is essentially .a typical adolescent searching for pornography, a curious adult with a newly found access to pornography; or a profit-motivated criminal. The preferential offender is .usually a sexually indiscriminate individual with a wide variety of deviant sexual interests or a pedophile with a definite preference for children. [4].

When characterizing high tech pedophiles that have been arrested, Special Agent and Chief Spokesman Pete Gulotta of the FBI’s "Innocent Images" Unit, says “ almost all white males between the ages of 25 and 45. "We’ve had military officers with high clearances, pediatricians, lawyers, school principals, and tech executives" [5].

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