The technology that created the internet may be the most significant contribution to communications science since the invention of the telephone. It allows us to reach out and touch the rest of the world in the blink of an eye, communicate with strangers half a world away, access news and information as it happens, and explore cultures and societies foreign to our way of living. It has also become an indispensable educational tool for both students and anyone else in search of knowledge.
As with any technology, there is always the possibility that it may venture into the wrong hands. Curiosity seekers have pulled up plans for nuclear weapons, adventurous teens have brought down banking systems, and terrorists and hate-mongers have used the medium both for recruitment and to broadcast their message of radical activism to the masses.
But, little compares to the corruption of otherwise average citizens who have crossed the line between sexual fantasy and sexual deviation, triggering dormant thoughts into frightful reality. And the fastest growing segment of these are the adults who, even with the threat of civil punishment, venture into the sordid world of child pornography.
Child pornography has become a multi-billion dollar industry. The United States Department of Justice estimates the sexual exploitation of children in the United States to include more than one million children, and involves children as young as two years old. A study analyzing the arrest of men charged with pornography between 2000 and 2001 found that 83% had images of prepubescent children on their computers, and that 83% of them had images of children being sexually penetrated.
A New York Times article revealed that "some men convicted of sexual abuse say that child pornography from the Internet fueled their urges". And studies by the Mayo Clinic indicate that 76% of individuals arrested for child pornography had at some point molested a child, though psychologists at the Federal Bureau of Prisons believe that number is slightly higher.
More alarming than the statistics themselves, are those who are included in them. Many of the individuals arrested are men entrusted with the care and development of those children; including teachers, family members, and even priests and ministers. The catholic church in the United States has fielded accusations against 4,032 priests. The actions leading to those accusations were made between 1950 and 2002, and though they represent only 4 percent of the priests in the American Catholic Church, the institution has paid out more than $2 billion in damages.
What causes individuals to be lured into child pornography and how does the rest of society identify those who may eventually explore deviate tendencies? Many psychologists believe that a great number of them may have themselves been abused as children, but determining who may become predators is a more difficult challenge. It seems that greater awareness by parents and the early education of our children on what is, and is not appropriate behavior by adults is the best protection we can offer.