SEX IN DEPTH Pedophiles get tech-savvy
By William Sparrow
BANGKOK - The proliferation of child pornography is a deplorable, abusive act
that would appear a very simple matter to identify and prosecute. Yet many
factors confuse its definition and make enforcement difficult. Laws that vary
greatly between countries and the onset of the Internet age have further
exacerbated the problem.
There are unintended side-effects in the pursuit of justice. A friend in
Thailand recently related a tale: he was working on his computer while his wife
and three-year-old daughter played with the neighborhood kids. His wife had
been taking snapshots with a
new digital camera and asked him to download the photos.
As he tells it: "I did it, but as I was flipping through the thumbnails with
her I was suddenly shocked and asked, 'Dear God, what the hell is this'?" He
had noticed a dozen or so pictures showing his daughter naked in the pool.
"I can't have this on my computer," he told his wife and promptly deleted the
images, despite her protests. She argued that the girl was just a baby, the
pictures weren't sexy and, most important, that it was his daughter. But he
stuck to his decision, worried about his job, which required traveling to
Western countries where enforcement on child porn is strict and the penalties
"The US is rabid on pedophilia and child porn," he said. "I don't even think it
would matter if I could prove it was my daughter to them. They'd still consider
me a 'baby bouncer', just that I would be deemed an even sicker incestuous
The US, Britain and Australia are leaders in enforcing strict laws and
penalties. Conversely, many Asian countries often lack legal definitions, which
leads to lax enforcement or minor punishments.
Asia is a leader in child pornography production with Japan, Cambodia and
Thailand most mentioned in reports as producing and facilitating countries. As
Asia Times Online reported in June 2000 (Tougher
action sought on Internet child porn), just seven months after Japan
enacted laws forbidding sex with minors and the production and distribution of
child pornography, activists estimated that as much as 80% of the illegal
material on the Internet was produced in Japan. Japan bent to international
pressure in 2003 and passed a subsequent law meant to strengthen enforcement.
While Japan's child porn industry remains a largely domestic undertaking often
run by organized crime syndicates, in Southeast Asia production often
originates from foreigners exploiting local children. Western tourists and
expats produce illicit porn that they later distribute. Locals in these
countries sometimes provide children for sexual abuse. They also take part in
distributing the content locally - usually to other foreigners - and
It is not uncommon in many of these Asian countries to find a pirated movie
tout who is willing to accommodate a buyer seeking child porn. They send a
runner off to acquire the material as they dare not carry it on their person.
These ill-gotten videos and photo-disks are a testament to the way technology
has changed the world of child pornography. The days of back-alley deals are
gone, replaced by the high-tech process of disseminating illegal material with,
and for, computers.
Tech-savvy pedophiles use digital cameras, encryption and the Internet to
anonymously transfer material. They also create chat rooms and bulletin boards
that disappear just as quickly as they are created, and peer-to-peer
information transfers that can be hard to track.
Torrents, or file-sharing systems, and forums that were meant for other
interactions have become havens for cryptic communications about how and where
to find illicit content. Organized distributors employ multiple servers in
countries around the world that provide their paying customers with a "jigsaw"
of child porn that is only assembled after download.
Technology has made for a complex, daunting crime that law enforcement must
chase on a daily basis.
The same technology that makes child porn much more fluid also makes it much
more reported in Western journalism. Internet bloggers and journalists have
noted that barely a day goes by without reports on a pedophile or on child
pornography. The truth, however, is it was always there. It was just
disseminated in the print media and rarely gained national or international
attention unless the details were exceedingly outrageous.
Today, a case from any backwater town or rural village reaches the masses,
stoking fear and disdain. The perceived prevalence serves as evidence that the
threat of child porn is omnipresent. In turn, laws and punishment (at least in
the West) become tougher and more punitive.
The threat was always there, the volume was always equivalent. But global
information access has propelled child porn into an unprecedented arena.
Child pornography - and the exploitation and sexual abuses it entails - must be
prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Lawmakers around the world - from
Saudi Arabia to Japan - need to create laws outlawing the sexual abuse of
minors, and see to it that these laws are actively enforced.
Until this is done, Asia will remain a leader in disreputable areas:
specifically prostitution and pornography. Leaders must make hard decisions on
matters of law concerning these issues.
William Sparrow has been an occasional contributor to Asia Times Online
and now joins Asia Times Online with a weekly column. Sparrow is editor in
chief of Asian Sex Gazette and
has reported on sex in Asia for over five years. To contact him send question
or comments to Letters@atimes.com.