Child sex offences – the future
As a nation, we are sometimes unforgiving when it comes to offences involving children.
It would be hard to miss the media coverage surrounding convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson, who, since serving his 14 year sentence, has been relocated several times due to public outcry. Just recently he was evicted from a public swimming pool in inner Sydney because of the presence of children.
The fact is, there will always be some who prey on children for their own gratification. New technologies continue to emerge that assist predators.
It is thought that 1 in 5 young internet users have received unwanted sexual solicitation online. Young people are targeted, or “groomed”, through online chat rooms, instant messenger, email, gaming sites and message boards.
Child sex offenders can roughly be split into two categories; those who view child pornography, and those who commit contact offences with children. Viewing child pornography is considered a crime as it condones the abuse of children and feeds the industry.
A growing number of online paedophile networks give offenders access to illegal material, while helping to validate their behaviour through membership of a group.
So what can be done to prevent these crimes?
One of the challenges for law enforcement is the increasing internet bandwidth speed, making it faster for offenders to upload, transmit and download child porn. The internet is a mass-distribution tool for offenders.
Encryption and other technologies that mask a user’s identity are becoming more sophisticated. Without a digital trail to follow, law enforcement has a much harder job of tracking offenders.
The fact that crimes are often committed across borders, and in many jurisdictions at the same time, creates confusion about whose jurisdiction is responsible.
Add to that the difficulty balancing an individual’s right to privacy, with law enforcement’s access to information.
So how do law enforcement agencies get on with the job?
Global initiatives, like Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT), allow different countries to work together to stop child sexual exploitation. Australia is a member of VGT, along with Canada, Italy, the UK and the US.
Global virtual teams, which detect offences and direct them back to local jurisdictions for enforcement, may become increasingly important.
Collaboration between government agencies and the private industry will be increasingly useful, in order for investigators to keep up with technological changes, and develop tools to detect online data trails.
But the most important prevention is education.
The Australian Federal Police and Microsoft Australia have developed an internet safety program called “Think U Know”, to be rolled out to schools in Term 1 of 2010. The program will provide interactive training to raise awareness about these types of crimes and teach young people how to protect themselves online.