|CYBER CHILD SEX OFFENDER TYPOLOGY
By Detective James F. McLaughlin
January 13th, 2000 marked the end of a three-year
Internet law enforcement project conducted by the Keene Police
Department. Over 200 hundred offenders from 40 different states
and 12 foreign countries were arrested and over 2,000,000 child
pornographic images seized. This article will attempt to catalog
the cyber sex offender’s characteristics who were arrested during
this initiative. On the onset the reader should be aware this
project targeted “Fixated” (Groth, 1978) or “Preferential” (Dietz,
1992) sex offenders who target male child victims. We selected
this target group for the following reasons:
- Those preferential sex offenders who select
male children as victims are more apt to collect child pornography
- those preferential sex offenders who exclusively
target male children tend to, on average, have more victims
than other child sex offenders (Abel, 1987);
- male victims are less likely to report
sexual victimization (Pescosolido, 1989);
- male victims are more vulnerable to extrafamiliarl
preferential sex offenders and;
It should also be know that certain due to case circumstances,
a system of investigation prioritization was developed. Although
this continuum was initially followed, in the final analysis, it
wasn’t always correlated with the most dangerous offenders being
apprehended. Computer cases start off with limited suspect information
about who is behind the keyboard during undercover operations. Some
of the most dangerous offenders were initially viewed as simple
collectors and it was only after they were searched were their true
danger realized. Some offenders (n=13) intended to travel for illegal
sex but were arrested before they could do so because of ethical
considerations. An example being an offender who is already molesting
children and saying he plans to travel in the months ahead would
be prioritized for immediate arrest. These offenders were categorized
as travelers nevertheless, although only charged with possession/distribution
of child pornography. Travelers also included those arranging
to have the child travel to them and who were arrested at airports
or bus terminals. The factors used for investigation prioritization
- a cursory check with law enforcement agencies
involved with Internet sex crime investigation showed more attention
being paid to adult male offender/female child victimization.
- When the suspect is a parent or has children
living in the residence.
- When the suspect has a prior arrest or has
been investigated for crimes committed against children or any
crime of violence.
- When the suspect demonstrates an eagerness
to travel for the purpose of engaging in illegal sexual contact
with children and/or encourages or facilitates children to travel
for said purpose.
- When the suspect is involved directly in the
manufacture of child pornography.
- When the suspect demonstrates an interest in
dangerous sexuality including but not limited to necrophilia,
sadism, bondage and erotic suffocation.
- When the suspect admits to past sexual contact
- When the suspect holds an occupation or vocation
which allows direct access to children including but not limited
to teachers, child care workers and athletic coaches.
- When the suspect holds a position of trust
and/or authority including but not limited to law enforcement
officers, attorneys, medical personnel and religious leaders.
- When the suspect holds an occupation or vocation
which allows for indirect contact with children including but
not limited to school bus drivers, crossing guards or school
- When the suspect is engaging in behavior on
the internet suggesting he possesses and is involved in the
distribution of a large volume of child pornographic images.
These offenders (N=200) as a group range in age from
13 to 65 with a mean average of 35.7 and medium average of 45. More
importantly, the modes showed an equal distribution for those in
their 20’s (25%), 30’s (23.5%) and 40’s (26%) with those under 18
(10.5%) and those older than 60 (2.5%) with less representation.
Occupations for these offenders broke down as follows; students
22%, laborers 22%, computer field 13%, white collar 13%, retired/unknown
11%, youth workers 4%, educators 3%, law 3%, medical 3%, disabled
3%, military 1%, church 1% and unemployed 1%. A characteristic of
offenders gaining access to children through volunteer position
or engaging in activity children are attracted to has been extensively
written about (Groth, 1978, Lanning, 1992, & Tower, 1993). Those
with know access to children represented 41% and those with a prior
arrest for a sex crime represented 12%. Two offenders had two prior
convictions and resided in states with 3-strike felony laws that
result in life sentences. All but two pairs operated independently,
this is not to say that online networks of offenders don’t exist.
In fact many offenders unknowingly made online introductions to
other offenders who were ultimately arrested. The two pairs who
acted in concert lived together, one pair met online and moved in
together as a result of their common interest. This population has
two female offenders (1%) which is statistically consistent with
non-computer using sexual offender rates on gender (Finkelhor &
Russell, 1984). Excluding the two female subjects (who were both
married) 12.5% of the male offenders were married, 1.5% were divorced
and 86% were single.
- When suspect is involved in collecting child
pornography and uses distributes child pornography as currency
for trading purposes.
During this project suspects were encountered in
real-time chat rooms, newsgroups and other static posting sites.
Differences in the way these offenders operated were observed.
The following typology based on behavior was developed.
Those involved in child pornography collecting
range in age from 13-years-old to 65-years-old. This group consists
of many “entry level” offenders. Most of these offenders do not
have any prior contact with law enforcement or have had any known
illegal contact with children. Because computer users feel they
are anonymous and falsely believe they are untraceable, it is
believed their may be more people engaging in the collection/trading
of child pornography who would have never have done so if it was
not for the Internet. Finkelhor (1984) found four preconditions
that must be met before an offender can molest a child. We can
extrapolate that these same four preconditions must be overcome
to engage in the collection of child pornography since there is
amble social stigma against engaging in such behavior. One
of these preconditions is to overcome external inhibitions. The
Internet eases overcoming this precondition allowing for more
marginally deviant driven offenders to engage in this illegal
behavior. The majority of these offenders were single, living
alone and would be regarded as socially isolated. Still another
group (21%) involved themselves in occupations and/or vocations
involving contact with children. Their collection of child pornography,
mixed with their access to children, is a dangerous combination
and thus of keen interest to law enforcement. Many of these offenders
start off collecting photographs of children from static locations
on the Internet, such as newsgroups and web pages, which do not
involve real-time online interaction with other computer users.
Literally thousands of photographs can be collected in this manner.
It is unknown why most collectors escalate from these static locations
to dynamic locations involving real-time interaction with others,
web-based chat rooms and Internet Relay Chat, to continue their
collecting photographs and video clips. It is when they go to
these dynamic locations they start to distribute child pornography.
These dynamic locations use child pornography as currency for
trading. Prior to the Internet the majority of collectors did
not involve themselves in distribution. Technology was not realistically
available to make quality copies of magazines, photographs, slides
and 8MM movies. Making copies of image files presently involves
a few clicks of any computer mouse allowing for effortless distribution.
Chat rooms number in the thousands. Child pornography
chat rooms vary and often are divided into to very specific subgroups
depending on what type of human physical attributions the collector
is attracted to. These rooms are often divided by what age the
offenders are attracted to and include; preteens, pubes, teens
and twinks (older teens/college age). Once in these rooms offenders
trade photographs by using categories describing what type of
pictures they are interested in which include; poses, nudist,
action, bareback and others. Some offenders seek specific photograph
of children by ethnic groups which include; Euros, Indians, Asians
and boys of color. Specific sexual acts involving boys with boys,
boys with adults and even as specific as whether the child is
circumcised or not (cut versus uncut) are traded. It may be when
an offender wants to collect specific photographs, like those
of blond haired, blue eyed boys in saunas, that he needs to interact
with others in order to secure these specific photographs to meet
these specific deviant needs. These offenders typically
set up the directories in their computer to file photographs so
they can be retrieved readily and quickly during online interactions.
Real-time trading also involves some users setting
up their computers as file transfer stations (FTP/Fserves). Users
connect to these traders over the Internet and can see a directory
of files that can be traded for. The user uploads a child pornographic
image file and receives credit to download the specific files
he wants. Users as young as 14-years-old were found operating
large trading centers from the safety and security of their bedrooms.
The range of photographs seized from these offenders
range from a few hundred to tens of thousands (one New Hampshire
offender had 43,000 image files). Additional computer storage
is the rule because image files take up a lot of computer space.
Extra hard drives, zip and jaz® drives as well as using storage
in cyber space, especially used by those on parole/probation or
who share their computers, is used. One high school teacher arrested
in Indiana stored his photographs on the high school’s main frame.
Offenders who live alone will frequently make hard copies of their
favorite photographs. These print outs are typically found in
the offender’s bedroom and used for fantasy during masturbation.
Many offenders become aware of and learn the names of hundreds
of file names and photographic series. They can quickly
recognize if they have seen a photograph before and if it has
been renamed. Given the immense number of series and photographs
on the Internet, this ability demonstrates the gross amount of
time and effort collectors invest in this behavior.
Mixed in with this group are subjects who would
probably never have engaged in this illegal behavior if they did
not have access to the Internet. Discerning those subjects from
those who may have past child victims or who might have future
child victims is difficult given the low reporting rate for child
sexual abuse crimes (Russell, 1983). Many states (including New
Hampshire) consider the possession of child pornography a felony
crime and federal sentencing guidelines call for felony level
terms of imprisonment. Occupations of collectors arrested included;
college professor, social worker, camp director, attorney, high-middle-
elementary school teachers, youth counselor, and law enforcement
Travelers are offenders who engage in chat with
children online and use their skills at manipulation and coercion
to meet the child in person for sexual purposes. These offenders
(N=48) range in age from 17 to 56 with a mean average of 34.7
and medium average of 34. The modes were showed for those between
17 and 29 years old (38%), 30’s (25%), 40’s (27%) and this in
their 50’s (10%). Most, but not all, travelers also collect
child pornography. These offenders may not have any criminal history
of sex offenses. The distance these offenders will travel, after
only a few minutes of chat online, is at times unbelievable. Four
traveled internationally (Canada, Holland and Norway) and the
others traveled to New Hampshire from 10 different states.
Over half of these offenders represented their age falsely as
being in their teens, and after some rapport revealed a more realistic,
although still false, age. Over half of these offenders sent actual
self-photographs, many were nudes. These offenders show many of
the same traits as listed in Lanning’s typology for “preferential/seduction”
offenders. Conversations with these offenders were very similar
involving the offender extracting personal information, developing
trust, engaging in sexual chat and sending pornographic images.
Many of these offenders falsely assure themselves that they always
empower the child and never coerce them to engage in sexual behavior
that is not mutually desired by both parties. One offender’s
computer illustrated how successful these offenders can be. Recovered
were over 25 transcripts of conversations the offender had with
boys ranging in age from 12 to 15 in five different states who
gave their names, directions to their homes and established safeguards
(cover stories) to ensure the offender would not be caught. These
offenders would show up at appointed places with instrumentalities,
such as condoms, lubricants, photo equipment and blankets (even
Viagra®), to engage in the sexual behavior they articulated
in their online chats. Some offenders opted to have the child
travel and would send money, bus or airline tickets facilitating
the child to them runaway.
Some of these offenders are the most dangerous
persons a child can meet online. Although sadistic pedophiles
represent a small fraction of child offenders (believed to be
1% or less), they can be lethal. Three offenders encountered during
this operation would be considered sadistic pedophiles. One would
operate concurrently in teen sex rooms and child torture rooms.
He eventually sent money in the mail to get a male child to runaway.
He went to a large city bus station to meet the child and was
arrested. During his chats he stated the child would be able to
live with him. A search of his home showed no such accommodations.
One other offender’s home was searched and photographs of dead
children in shallow graves were seized. Still another was already
in custody for child homicide. The subpoena had been complied
with and the account owner/suspect identified, but it was
Occupations of collectors arrested included; military
officer, attorney, athletic director, priest, college professor,
high school teacher and a civil engineer.
Not all collectors are manufacturers but all manufactures
are collectors. These offenders (n=8) range in age from 26 to
53 with a mean average of 41.3 and medium average of 40. It is
safe to say that the number of manufactures has increased over
the years with the availability of new medium. Home development
of black and white 35MM film, self-developing Polaroid film, video
cameras, camcorders, computer scanners, CUseeme technology and
now computer cameras (including video) have made child pornography
easier and easier to produce and reproduce. It is estimated that
over half of the child pornography and video clips are scanned
(or video captured) images from child pornographic films and magazines
produced originally in the 1960’s and 70’s.
The Internet has turn the child pornography industry
financially upside down. Most of what is available is free or
available for trading with like-materials. Child pornography is
still available for sale. One such operation discovered during
this operation located in Russia and sells standard videotapes
or CDroms of child pornography. They funnel their order requests
through electronic email by way of a European country and the
money for the products goes through International banks. But since
computer image files can be copied so easily, the product becomes
available quickly as soon as one person makes a purchase and shares
the images electronically across the Internet.
There are locations on the Internet called reflector
sites where computer users can connect and using an attached peripheral
computer camera broadcast their image as they sit in front of
their computer and view others who have also connected. Many of
these reflector sites are available for teens to connect and engage
in cybersex and involve their masturbating to an audience. Any
person connected to the reflector site can record what he sees
on his screen These images can then be easily distributed to others.
Sex offenders have been caught numerous times sending computer
cameras to under aged persons, facts and circumstances as they
believed them to be, so they could connect and view real-time
sexual acts. Their have also been criminal cases brought when
an offender arranged with others to view himself engaging in real-time
sex with a child victim on camera for others around the globe
Many offenders go into public places like water
parks and beaches and photograph children and then post the photographs
on the Internet for all to view. Their have also been photographs
posted which involve the secrete photographing of children in
changing rooms, public bathrooms and of sleeping (exposed) children.
This ease of manufacture can pose ethical issues.
In one case a 17-year-old male was photographing himself and distributing
the photographs for free. The legislative intent of the statute
is to protect children from the exploitation of others, its clear
law makers would not have anticipated situations like this.
More manufactures were found to be sexually involved
with children or to have criminal histories of sex offending.
Investigations revealed many offenders in this group had photographed
children they molested years ago, were actively molesting, or
were in the process of seducing. On at least four occasions runaway
children were found being harbored in the homes of these offenders
when search warrants were executed. Only one subject in
this group had any financial gain as a result of distributing
child pornography over the Internet, and that gain was clearly
under a $1,000.00. Occupations of collectors arrested included;
professional nanny, photographer, airport worker, building superintendent
and youth music teacher.
These offenders usually do not involve themselves
in child pornography, but some do collect child erotica. Most
do not come to the attention of law enforcement because they ride
the legal fence. Sometimes they are not clear on what is erotica
and what is illegal material. They often confuse what is called
“naturist” material with images involving the lewd exhibition
of genitals. They often refuse to send any materials over the
Internet and warn underage persons not to do so and not to trust
others who send them image files. These subjects present themselves
as the only person children can trust on the Internet. They spend
inordinate amounts of time online (as much as 12 hours a day or
more). They also present themselves as “teachers” and offer, and
at times insist they be asked questions, on any subject, preferably
sex. They draw behavioral lines while in chat rooms and stay within
those parameters and expect others to follow. Most will engage
in cyber sex and after some rapport is built up over time they
attempt to escalate the contact to telephone contact. After some
normal telephone conversation they attempt to escalate this into
phone sex. They are typically satisfied with this amount of contact
and do not want to meet the child in person. These offenders are
very ritualistic on how they operate. Once they develop a successful
style to engage children online, they stick to what works.
Typologies of sex offenders are crude constructs
drawn to aid in the understanding of the differences in behaviors.
They typically paint with a broad brush especially when dealing
with behavior as complicated as sexual offending. Abel (1987)
has shown how it is rare for a subject to be involved in just
one paraphilia such as pedophilia; multiple paraphilias appear
to be the rule. The majority of subjects in this population validated
this theory. Besides being involved in technophilia (McLaughlin,
1998) many offenders were also found to be involved in but not
limited to; pedophilia, hebephilia, klismaphilia, partialism,
urophilia, axilphilia, fetishes (especially the collection of
soiled underwear) infantism, sado-maschism and transvestite behavior.
These searches also inadvertently revealed other criminal conduct
which included; homicide, possession of explosives, controlled
substance distribution and possession, firearms violations and
the harboring of runaways.
It is still safe to say that less than 1% of those
committing crimes on the Internet are being apprehended. There
are presently more and more federal, state and local law enforcement
agencies getting involved in this new arena. This has resulted
in new operating policies being drawn on what little is know to
date about investigating these complicated crimes or on speculation
alone. Sparse legal decisions exist to date so a more conservative
approach is being adopted to fight a problem with an unmeasurable
prevalence. Law enforcement needs to re-examine its approach and
methods as this effort continues in order to keep pace with both
changing technology and criminal cyber behaviors.
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J., Rouleau, J.L., & Murphy, W.D. (1987). Self-reported sex
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Lanning, K. V. (1992). Child Molesters: A behavioral Analysis.
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McLaughlin, J. (1998). Technophilia: A modern day paraphilia.
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Pescosolido, F. J. (1989). Sexual abuse of boys by males: Theoretical
and treatment implications. In Suzanne Sgroi, Ed., Vulnerable
Populations, Vol. 2, Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Russell, D. (1983). The incidence and prevalence of intrafamilial
and extrafamilial sexual abuse of female children. Child Abuse
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Tower, C. (1993). Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect. Boston,
MA: Allyn and Bacon.
|Jim McLaughlin has been a Keene, NH police officer since
1981 after having served as a military policeman in the U.S.
Marine Corps. He has earned an A.A. degree in police science
from Mount Wachusetts Community College, a BA degree in psychology
from Keene State College, a Certificate Degree in Child Sexual
Abuse Intervention from the University Of Alabama and a MS
degree in Criminal Justice from Fitchburg State College. He
is presently assigned as a detective with the Investigation
Division. He also serves on the Attorney General’s Task Force
on Child Abuse and Neglect. Send comments or questions to:
Internet Crimes Against Children web pages are maintained
by the Keene Police Department Web Team. Send comments or
questions to: email@example.com.