New strategies for combatting internet porn

Criminologist Jeremy Prichard has just published research into the use of internet child pornography. Here he discusses some of his original ideas for dealing with this material. MercatorNet: Do criminologists understand what “hooks” people on internet child pornography? Jeremy Prichard: The preferred term in this field is “child exploitation material” because the word “pornography” may legitimise offenders’ views that the material is an erotic sub-genre of mainstream pornography.
The “hook” may vary between individuals, but both fantasies and masturbation can act to condition or reinforce sexual excitement derived from internet child exploitation material. There seem to be a variety of “trajectories” into using the material -– mainly by males. Of course broadly this includes production of the material (eg filming sexual assaults) as well as distribution and “consumption”, or viewing. Some individuals develop an interest in child exploitation material after committing sexual assaults on children. Other offenders progress from viewing child exploitation material to perpetrating face-to-face assaults. Still others view child exploitation material without face-to-face offending. A causal link between viewing child exploitation material and sexually assaulting children has not been established. But I would argue that both behaviours are risk factors for each other. MercatorNet: Because you can access it with a click of the mouse, is it possible to be drawn into the world of internet pornography through impulsive curiosity?  Jeremy Prichard: Yes, it does seem possible. If individuals repeatedly view the material and engage in sexual fantasy or masturbation, the sense of attraction to child exploitation material can increase and the behaviour may escalate. In other scenarios onset might occur when individuals have become bored with other forms of non-deviant and deviant pornography available on the internet. Apparently, the fact that child exploitation material is taboo and illegal can heighten feelings of arousal. MercatorNet: Some users of this material think that there are no harms involved. Is that true? Jeremy Prichard: Views vary markedly regarding harms. Sadly some individuals derive sadistic pleasure from watching child sexual assault – even combined with torture and bestiality. In other words, knowledge of the harm caused to the child or children can itself be a source of stimulation. In contrast, there are paedophilic subcultures that promote the notion that, among other things, sexual relationships between adults and children can be consensual and loving.
Some individuals may believe that, while child sexual assault is wrong, there is no harm in viewing internet child exploitation material because it is, after all, just a digital recording of something that happened in the past. However, some important contrary points can be made. Clearly if an individual pays for child exploitation material then they are supporting a market that abuses children. Regardless of whether “users” pay for material, victims can be terribly scarred by the knowledge that (a) a record of their abuse exists on the net, (b) it is used by others for sexual stimulation and (c) this is what the abuser wanted. In a sense, viewing child exploitation material perpetuates the original crime. MercatorNet: Some of the child pornography is distributed through the same peer to peer networks used to illegally download movies, music, and software. What proportion is constituted by child pornography?  Jeremy Prichard: We cannot quantify the proportion of child exploitation material distributed via P2P networks. MercatorNet: What did your research into the site IsoHunt, which describes itself as the “best P2P files search engine and community”, uncover about the popularity of child pornography? Jeremy Prichard: For three months in late 2010 we recorded the 300 most popular search terms entered on isoHunt. The bulk of the terms related to movies, music, software and so forth. But three child “pornography” terms consistently appeared. One term for “pre-teen hardcore” ranked in the top 100 for a month; this search term was entered more frequently in that month than Harry Potter, Spartacus, Linkin Park, or Big Bang Theory. Our results do not show how many people entered the child “pornography” search terms. But given the popularity of isoHunt – which had 1.42 million registered users at the time -– the findings were concerning. MercatorNet: Currently the principal way of combatting internet child pornography is by cutting off supply through law enforcement. Are there other creative ways of dealing with this market? Jeremy Prichard: One strategy would be to actually approach online communities, such as isoHunt, and to engage in discussions with them about child pornography. This would be an attempt to encourage isoHunt to make prominent statements on its website denouncing child pornography and the harm it causes.
We’d like to see isoHunt alter the way in which the Top 300 hits are generated so that child pornography search terms do not appear. Of course, with strategies such as these isoHunt might be concerned about a variety of complex issues, including how to maintain its popularity and safeguard its profit base. Conceivably isoHunt may lose credibility among its followers if it were seen to have turned its back on core beliefs about censorship and free speech.
A different strategy to encourage pro-social norms among online subcultures would focus on automated internet messages, or pop-up messages, that for instance appear when a user enters certain terms into a search engine. Pop-ups are more likely to be effective if they explain the harms of child pornography, rather than adopting a deterrent approach that centres on law enforcement.
Perhaps they could be short movies, possibly using Adobe Flash or another embedded, rich multimedia file type, featuring individuals with high status among online subcultures. For example, perhaps a message from a famous actor would capture attention. Alternatively, individuals could be approached that have specific status in certain communities, such as gamers, geeks and hackers. Jeremy Prichard is a lecturer in law at the University of Tasmania, in Hobart, Australia. 


Join Mercator today for free and get our latest news and analysis

Buck internet censorship and get the news you may not get anywhere else, delivered right to your inbox. It's free and your info is safe with us, we will never share or sell your personal data.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.