DAVID Croft thought he could get away with downloading thousands of images of child abuse – like so many others.
The law, however, caught up with the 63-year-old Marsh man on Thursday when he was given a raft of rehabilitation and banning orders.
But why do people risk their freedom to look at images of child abuse? Does looking at it lead to other more serious crimes?
Reporter DAVID HIMELFIELD put the questions to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) and Dr Bernard Gallagher, a Huddersfield University researcher who has investigated child sexual abuse for 20 years.
Why do people view child pornography?
Ceop: “Research suggests that offenders become aware of their sexual interest in children during early adolescence and in almost all cases by the age of 18 years.
“This sexual interest remains with them for the rest of their lives. Individuals with a sexual interest in children have formative life experiences and significant childhood events which appear to influence their perceptions and beliefs.”
“Many people with such an interest are able to suppress it and do not go on to offend.’’
What sort of people download images of child abuse?
There is no ‘typical paedophile’. People caught with such images vary in age, social class, marital status and sexuality.
But offenders are generally male and fall into two categories.
Dr Gallagher said: “You have ‘fixated’ or ‘preferential’ offenders who have a strong drive to have sex with children and they will always present a high risk. They don’t care about what they do or they don’t think it’s wrong. Some think they are in an equal relationship with a child.
“Then you have the opportunistic type. They, perhaps, don’t have such a strong predilection but when the opportunity arises they will act on it.”
Does viewing child pornography lead to more serious offending such and grooming and sexual abuse?
There is little reliable evidence to suggest this.
Ceop states: “The acquisition of these images was previously thought to be part of a longer grooming process but, for some offenders, it is now believed that this may be an end in itself.”
How do children become the subjects of child pornography?
Images are usually made by people who live or work with children, for example parents, relatives, friends of a family or carers.
Child trafficking for this purpose exists, but it accounts for a tiny minority of images.
How are child pornography images obtained?
The internet has made it far easier to access these images and harder for viewers to be caught.
Peer-to-peer networks account for the majority of child pornography uploads and downloads.
Previously paedophiles would download such images – often for a fee – from websites.
Dr Gallagher said: “The internet is awash with these images and it’s largely unpoliced. The problem is so huge that the police don’t have the resources to tackle it.”
How are people who make or view child pornography caught?
Dr Gallagher said: “Sometimes it’s by accident – for example when Gary Glitter took his computer to be repaired. Sometimes people come across the images accidently on another person’s computer.”
Downloads can be traced to a person’s computer by its unique IP (internet protocol) address.
Often it is through intelligence. Between March 2008 and February 2009 Ceop received 5,411 reports, 47% from the public and 53% from other sources including industry, children’s charities and law enforcement agencies around the world.
What is the solution?
Dr Gallagher said: “The police are not proactive – they are being reactive. We need to give them resources to go on the internet and track them down and make people more fearful of being caught.
“The computer and internet industry need to take it more seriously. We seem to do more about illegal music downloads.”
How can I protect my child?
Visit www.childnet-int.org. It has activities for parents and children to protect them from online predators.