First in a series.
Cyber-stalking by sexual predators is the core of a $3 billion a year enterprise that produces what two experts in the investigation of child pornography call “crime scene photos” of the No. 1 internet search topic in America.
Dr. J. Michael Wood, Sex Offender Screening and Risk Assessment program psychologist for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, and Sheri J. Flynn, SOSRA administrator, made that case Friday to law enforcement officers from across the Southwest Arkansas region of the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police in a training conference at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope.
In an interview with the Hope Star, Dr. Wood pointed out that parents must keep pace with the explosion of electronic social media simply because their children are doing so, and the sexual predators who stalk children are among the most Internet savvy users of social technology.
“It is increasing dramatically because we didn't have the Internet in the 90s,” Wood said. “It is a whole different kind of crime.”
He points to a 2007 study which showed that among children interviewed, 13 percent had said they had been asked directly by someone online for sexual favors.
“The definite increase is in what I call internet crime is in child pornography and what you would call internet stalking,” Wood said.
He said a report by the international search engine Google showed the No. 1 search topic in America is “child porn.”
He said the news/reality program “To Catch a Predator” illustrates the outline of the crime, in that a child predator is in contact online with someone he believes to be a child; the online relationship turns sexual at his insistence; the predator suggests a meeting for sexual favors; and, the meeting is arranged.
“Most of the time it is a police officer (portraying the child),” Wood said. “The police are doing a lot of stings on that. We are seeing them a lot.”
Wood has interviewed sexual predators in his work in the Arkansas prison system. He has written profile reports for law enforcement on the subject and gives seminar lectures, as well as collaborating with law enforcement and offering expert testimony in court on the subjects of child pornography and internet stalking.
“A lot of the early internet sex offenders were in the federal prisons,” Wood said. “And, I got to work with them and understand them pretty good. When I came to Arkansas, we get the argument that these are different kinds of sex offenders; that they are really not dangerous; that they are just looking at pictures; that they haven't really done anything; or, it's just a fantasy.”
Wood said none of those arguments prevent the motive at the heart of child pornography and internet stalking from being acted upon.
Page 2 of 2 - “I know better from working with them, that may be true for some, but it's a mistake to think that for all of them,” he said.
Wood was involved in research with a Canadian psychologist who studied the crime and Wood has correlated that research to the ADC with remarkably similar findings.
“Arkansas offenders matched up well with what we know world-wide,” he said. “About fifty percent of what we call 'internet offenders,' guys who have never had a known hands-on victim, have done it and not gotten caught for it.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that in 2011 it investigated 17.3 million images and videos of suspected child pornography, which was four times more than in 2007. The organization notes that in 2006 prosecution of child pornography cases by U.S. attorneys increased 82.8 percent, compared to 1994.
“It's a mistake to think of this as a victimless crime,” Wood said. “These are crime scene photos.”
And, internet predators are becoming more sophisticated in their use of the web, he said.
“I think there are a lot of reasons we're seeing it take off,” Wood said. “You think about in the old days, they had to get film developed, and you couldn't share them because there wasn't an internet. The child pornographer of old had to have a dark room and develop them himself.”
The internet changed all of that.
“All you have to have is a digital camera; and, even the biggest idiot can get them online,” Wood said. “It takes no special skill whatsoever.”
All it takes these days is a cell phone and a victim.
Next: Predators vs. parents