Despite media images of the depraved sex monster, Internet child pornography offenders are typically white, male, educated and employed adults.
According to a new book, Internet Child Pornography, by Professor Richard Wortley from University College London and Griffith University researcher Professor Stephen Smallbone, many offenders are married or living with a partner. They include judges, soldiers, dentists, teachers, academics and police officers.
“Males are overrepresented in most forms of crime but especially in sexual crime,’’ Professor Smallbone said.
“However, the demographic profile of ICP offenders is quite different from general offenders who tend to be younger, less educated, less likely to be employed and more likely to be of minority race.
“It is the ordinary, not the unusual, profile of these offenders that is most striking.”
He said the Internet had placed child pornography within the reach of any individual who so much had a thought about children as sexual objects.
“The Internet has a disinhibiting effect, and people will behave in ways online that they would not behave in real life.
“Indeed, the problem with child pornography today—as opposed to the situation pre-1980— is precisely because the Internet has made it so easy for individuals to act on their latent sexual desires.
“Prior to the Internet, child pornography was typically locally produced, of poor technical quality, expensive, and difficult to obtain.
“Just months before the first standardised protocols for the Internet were implemented in 1983, key US agencies had reported that child pornography was no longer a priority problem. Then the Internet arrived and changed everything.
“Internet child pornography is now the quintessential global crime problem. However, it is also essentially a local problem, because the original production of these images most often results from contact sexual abuse by adults with close familial or social relationships to the children.
“Some offenders who download ICP are also involved in its production, but the majority of those downloading ICP are not involved in contact child sexual abuse.
“The prevention strategies required for the production of ICP are very different from those required for the downloading of ICP.”
He said the alarm about the growth of child pornography since the Internet should not overshadow concerns about contact sexual abuse, which still mainly involves offenders who are well known to the victim.
“Sexual abuse itself should remain the first priority for prevention efforts.
“Making clear the distinctions between various types of Internet child exploitation allows us to better prioritise our prevention efforts, focusing particularly on offences that involve contact sexual abuse.
“We need to know a lot more about how people first encounter ICP, the various ways in which people respond to these first encounters, why some go on to become so preoccupied with accessing this material, and why some go on to sexually abuse children.”
Listen to an interview with Professor Smallbone here.