Online pedophiles blackmail children into meetings
Online pedophiles are becoming more aggressive in their pursuit of children, often using suggestive photographs or inappropriate online conversations to blackmail their victims into face-to-face meetings.
The head of the Virtual Global Taskforce into online child abuse, Jim Gamble, said police were witnessing an explosion in child pornography, driven by the ready availability of digital media devices.
As a result, child abuse images were increasingly graphic as pedophiles sought to outdo each other by producing ever more serious images of abuse.
Mr Gamble said a pedophile’s credibility within a network increased if he or she could produce fresher, more graphic child images. “Of the images we are recovering, certainly they’re becoming more graphic,” he said. “They’re becoming more contemporary. What we did have for a long time were a lot of historic images that circulated the internet. But as people have become more competent with new digital material, we’re getting newer images.”
Mr Gamble is chief executive of the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and chair of the virtual taskforce, a global coalition of police agencies charged with cracking down on online child abuse material.
The Australian Federal Police, which Mr Gamble said was at “the cutting edge” of law enforcement’s crackdown on online child abuse, is a member of the taskforce.
He said that under the leadership of outgoing chief Mick Keelty, the AFP had done an “outstanding” job cracking down on online child abuse.
When asked about the most alarming new trend, Mr Gamble cited the increasingly aggressive modus operandi of online pedophiles. He said offenders were increasingly quick to blackmail victims into meetings.
He said pedophiles often entrapped their victims by posing as teenagers in online chat rooms and encouraging them to send lewd pictures of themselves, or to engage in sexually themed conversations.
Once a picture or a record of a conversation existed, victims were easily blackmailed, with pedophiles trawling through chat-room conversation logs in order to identify the most vulnerable children.
Mr Gamble said offenders would threaten to post sensitive material to a victim’s school or tell their parents.
“So suddenly you’re into a blackmail scenario whereby the child is forced to comply, or (they) believe they’re forced to comply,” Mr Gamble said.
“So it’s very, very difficult. Once you create those pictures, once you engage in that recorded conversation, the pedophile will become much more hostile.”
Mr Gamble said there was no “stereotypical pedophile”, nor were there stereotypical victims.
He said the widespread view that most victims were confined to poor parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe, was wrong.
Rather, he said, most appeared to be white, westernised children.
To give some idea of the scale of the problem, Mr Gamble said his centre had 860,000 unique images of child abuse.
“They’re not the Southeast Asian children that we know are victimised by travelling sex offenders. That’s not the greatest majority; it’s not even a significant minority. They are generally white, westernised children.”
He said police were also seeing more video online, much of which is dissected and disseminated as still images.