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 (Lanny, 1992);
  • 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;
  • 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.
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 were:
  • 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 with children
  • 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 janitors.
  • 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.
  • When suspect is involved in collecting child pornography and uses distributes child pornography as currency for trading purposes.
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.

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 officers. 


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 to late. 

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 to view. 

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. 


Abel, G.G., Becker, J.V., Mittelman, M.S., Cunningham-Rathner, J., Rouleau, J.L., & Murphy, W.D. (1987). Self-reported sex crimes of nonincarcerated paraphilics. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2, 3-25. 

Dietz, Park E. (1983). Sex offenses: Behavioral Aspects. In S. H. Kadish, et al Eds., Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice. New York: Free Press. 

Finkelhor, D. (1984). Child Sexual Abuse. New York: Free Press. 

Finkelhor, D. & Russell, D. (1984). Women as perpetrators: Review of the evidence. In D. Finkelhor. Child Abuses: New Theory and research, 171-187. New York: Free Press.

Groth. A. N. (1978). Adult sexual orientation and attraction to underage persons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 7, No. 3, 175-181. 

Lanning, K. V. (1992). Child Molesters: A behavioral Analysis. Washington DC: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. 

McLaughlin, J. (1998). Technophilia: A modern day paraphilia. Kinght Stick: Publication of the New Hampshire Police Association, Spring/Summer 98, Vol. 51, 47-51.

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 and Neglect, 7, 133-146.

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:

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