- The different types of internet-facilitated crime are —
- Possession, distribution and production of child pornography.
- Sexual solicitation of minors.
- Conspiracy crimes using online technologies.
- The characteristics of internet offenders are —
- One in eight had an official record for contact sexual offending.
- Fifty-five percent admitted to a history of contact sexual offending.
- Online only offenders were relatively low risk compared to contact sex offenders.
- Child pornography offenders are likely to be pedophiles.
- Sexual solicitation offenders are primarily interested in adolescent girls.
There is increasing public and professional concern about internet-facilitated sexual offending, reflected in a greater number of prosecutions and clinical referrals for these crimes (Motivans & Kyckelhahn, 2007; U.S. Department of Justice, 2010; United States Sentencing Commission, 2012). Internet sexual offending comprises a range of crimes, including possession or distribution of child pornography; production of child pornography; sexual solicitations1 (online interactions with minors for sexual purposes, including plans to meet offline); and conspiracy crimes (e.g., collaborating with others to distribute or produce child pornography, sexually solicit minors, sexually traffic minors). Most online sexual offenses involve possession or distribution of child pornography.
It is hard to obtain precise estimates of the extent of internet-facilitated sexual offending in the United States, as there is no national system for integrating information about internet offenders at the state level and there are state-by-state variations in the applicable laws. However, the National Juvenile Online Victimization Study, conducted in 2000 and again in 2009, indicates that the number of arrests in the United States for internet sex crimes has tripled over that time (Wolak, 2012; Wolak, Finkelhor & Mitchell, 2011). Average sentences are getting longer for comparable child pornography offenses, indicating that internet offenders will occupy custodial beds longer and will require longer terms of supervision if they become eligible for probation/parole (Wolak, Finkelhor & Mitchell, 2009).
Given the nature of the internet, this type of sexual offending is clearly an international problem, with political, legal and geographic complexities. Many child pornography sites are based outside the United States (e.g., Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia), where laws differ substantially. The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (2010) reviewed laws in 196 countries and found that almost half (89 countries) did not have specific child pornography laws. Some of the remaining countries prohibited child pornography under more general obscenity laws, but some countries had no legal prohibitions. There is also variation in prohibitions of child pornography; for example, some countries (such as the United States) prohibit only visual depictions of real children, whereas other countries (such as Canada) prohibit depictions of fictional children (e.g., anime) or nonvisual depictions (e.g., audio recordings or stories).
The increase in internet sexual offending has been paralleled by a decrease in the number of reported child sexual abuse cases, and a decrease in violent crime more broadly (Finkelhor & Jones, 2006; Mishra & Lalumière, 2009). This suggests that internet sexual offending is a newer phenomenon that may not be influenced by the same contextual factors as other kinds of sexual or…
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