Child Abuse

On October 17, 2011, in Uncategorized

Am I the only one who thinks the horrible trend in child abuse is important enough to warrant urgent and spirited public debate? I was starting to think so until I saw an excellent multimedia treatment of “America’s child death shame” by the BBC. It inspired me to dust off an article I wrote but failed to convince the mainstream media to publish, and post it here on my own soapbox. Thank God for the new media.

Of course it is not a fun read, but I believe it is a necessary read.

The Future of Child Abuse

By David Ellis

How did we get to a point at which could not only sell but even try to defend its listing of The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure in its online bookstore, as it did last November? Answer: By not paying attention to the acceleration of communication technologies. Will it get worse? Yes: The next generation of “stealth browsing” and cryptography technologies will continue not just to spread, but also to “normalize”—make socially acceptable—the practice of child sexual and other abuse.

Caught in the Webs

Social networking, or what the technorati call Web 2.0, took us by surprise. Logically, its predecessor was “Web 1.0,” though to the public, the Web was just The Web. It had no history, and it was the future. Few people gave a thought as to whether the Web would evolve into something so radically different as to merit “versioning,” or that it would leap, virus-like, from its original host (the PC) to infect other host species (the cell phone, the smart phone, the tablet.)

The evolutions from no Web at all to Web 1.0, and from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, were really revolutions, unfolding faster than our ability to wrap our minds around them. That is why so many of our children did not make it safely through the transitions, lost to the tender mercies of grandmotherly wolves lurking in the forest of wayside Web 1.0 chat rooms and the instant messages, images, and social networks of Web 2.0. And it is why so many more might not make it through the transition to Web 3.0.

Web 3.0 will put children within touchable, three-dimensional reach of abusers who will be protected by stealth and encryption technologies. Are we just going to open this latest Pandora’s Package and see what happens? Again?

Child Abuse and the Web

Haven’t we learned enough, already, about what happens to children—and society—if we do nothing? British children’s charity National Children’s Homes (NCH) reported a 1,500 percent rise in child pornography cases in UK between 1988 and 2004—roughly, during Web 1.0. There was a corresponding increase in child pornography images: In 2003, one New York man was caught in possession of about a million digital child pornography pictures. NCH predicted that the rising trend would only stimulate demand further and result in more children being abused to produce more pictures. “Many paedophiles acknowledged that exposure to child sex images fuelled their fantasies and played an important part in leading them to commit physical sexual offences against children,” NCH said.

Pedophiles were emboldened by anonymity technologies such as untraceable prepaid phones, free Hotmail accounts, and free PGP encryption software, and their industry expanded as camera phones and PDAs enabled them to take, share, and make money from images of abuse. All of which resulted, as the NCH predicted, in an increase in demand for subjects for the abusive images and objects for image inflamed lust. Many of those subjects and objects were left, unsupervised by their parents, in Internet- and cellphone-accessible chat rooms, where pedophiles in disguise targeted and groomed them for abuse.

Pedophiles were emboldened by the half-heartedness of society’s attempts to stop them. In 2001, towards the end of the Web 1.0 era, the National Child Protection Clearinghouse at the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) wrote in a report: “Unfortunately, the development and adoption of preventative measures has not kept pace with the spread of internet use and technological developments.”

If we failed to predict and keep pace with the potential for accelerating child abuse stemming from the accelerating technologies of Web 1.0, what hope did we have as Web 2.0 technologies opened more paths in the deepening forest to predator and prey alike, through social networking, broadband-enabled higher resolution images and video, and greater privacy through anonymous file-sharing networks and ever-improving cloaks of invisibility such as the browser “stealth mode” option first offered in Google’s Chrome?

The answer is: None. Our feeble response to Web 1.0 was too late not just in the quantitative sense (more children subjected to abuse.) It was also too late to prevent something far more profound and bone chilling: the normalization of child sex and the desensitization of children themselves to sex and sexual abuse. Normalization is evidenced, at the extreme, by the open establishment of the North American Man-Boy Love Association and the International Pedophile and Child Emancipation group, and by’s outrageous attempt to justify its listing of The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure.

As well, our response was too late to prevent other kinds of abuse amplified (predictably) by the added functions of Web 2.0. That is to say: Emotional abuse via cellphone text messaging and social networking sites, and child neglect as children, their parents, or both sank deeper into the seductive web of more realistic yet more fantastical and addictive games, social networks, and virtual environments, spending more and more of their lives there. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported last January that children ages 8 to 18 devoted an average of seven hours and 38 minutes a day consuming some form of media. Study co-author Donald Roberts called the finding “a game changer” and said “We’re really close to kids being online 24/7.”

We failed to anticipate the impact on child abuse of Webs 1.0 and 2.0, and here we are on the cusp of Web 3.0, with its ability to put predator and prey in the same virtual room and literally in touch through haptic and robotic extensions. Telesex using haptic sex aids is available today. That should come as no surprise: so is telesurgery. By no means least, you can bet that the ultimate privacy guaranteed by something called “quantum encryption,” used today by banks and Pentagons, will be available to pedophiles tomorrow as part of Web 3.0.

In the Beginning

In the early days of Web 1.0, a 1997 report (“Child pornography in the digital age,” published in the UK journal Transnational Organised Crime) opined that “If there is any good news about child pornography, it is that it is very difficult to become an unwilling consumer. … The likelihood of stumbling across it unwittingly is slim; of having it thrust upon one against one’s will even more so.” One may be forgiven a cynical moment of wonderment about whose side of organized crime the journal is on, for this manifestly did not hold true. Porn, including child porn, is shoved into our faces, and our children’s faces, minute by relentless minute through spam, games, the social media, and virtual worlds.

It continued: “Until the first generation of children born in the digital age themselves enter adulthood, a degree of education for parents seems appropriate.” Why are we to suppose that things will get better when an abused and de-sensitized generation reaches parenthood?

And: “The more publicly visible areas of cyberspace will become increasingly inhospitable to those who would traffic in child pornography.” Manifestly untrue; but wait, there’s more: “Increasing knowledge and capacity on the part of law enforcement, combined with vigilance on the part of concerned citizens and the assistance of some ISPs, will deter most casual opportunists, and drive the residual participants underground.” It didn’t happen: The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure, available through, QED.

The report got one thing right: “[Pedophiles] will depend on sophisticated technology to avoid public attention.” And we seem only too happy to oblige, even to the point of providing encryption and stealth technologies to them, gratis.


Of course there is a great public benefit to such technologies also, just as there is to the Web as a whole, and we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But we have allowed the tub to fill so full that the baby is drowning. Loving, caring, practicing parents may feel they have no choice but to forgo the benefits of the Internet entirely for their children and perhaps for themselves, as ultra-orthodox Jewish parents already do. Israeli cellphone companies offer kosher phones bearing a rabbinical stamp of approval that can make and receive calls. They may have a calculator and alarm clock. But they cannot send or receive text messages, browse the Internet, or take photos. Some connect only with other kosher phones, identifiable by area code prefixes reserved for them.

In some countries, task forces have been set up and laws passed to try to address the issue of child pornography on the Internet, though needless to say, only in retrospect. A key problem, as the AIST reported, is that “The internet is driven by adult philosophies of free speech and privacy. Protection of children appears to have been an after-thought….”

It is no surprise that while many child abuse prevention agencies, including government agencies, advocate for tighter regulation and/or enforcement of existing regulation, their websites reveal little interest in or even knowledge of Web 3.0. Yet the Department of Defense has a “Technology Warning Division” tasked to assess the impact of future technologies, so that it can minimize potential harm to US military interests, and all US federal agencies are required by law to consider the probable environmental effects of projects and programs under their control, and to prepare detailed environmental impact statements accordingly.

The group Texans Care for Children has proposed child impact statements that would describe how children’s emotional, physical, intellectual, and financial needs and access to resources would be affected by proposed legislation. Why can we not have, and why does nobody seem to be advocating for, mandatory Child Impact Statements requiring technology developers to consider the effect of their technologies on children?

In the End

America places great store by the wisdom of its founding fathers. What, one wonders, would George Washington or John Adams have done, faced with the horror of child abuse running rampant and trending dangerously close to social acceptability and respectability? In a letter to Samuel Kercheval, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1810:

I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections [my emphasis] had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the same coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

An abridged version of that paragraph is inscribed in stone on the 4th panel in the Jefferson Memorial. Pedophiles would have us believe that the sexual abuse of children is a “moderate imperfection” and that Jefferson must therefore condone the social acceptability of the sexual and other violent abuse of children. The listing of The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure, short-lived as may be, means that they are winning the argument.

We can do better. We must. Let’s get civilized, and turn “The Future of Child Abuse” into the oxymoron it ought to be.

* * *

David Ellis is the author of Technology and the Future of Health Care: Preparing for the Next 30 Years and Deus ex Machina sapiens: The Emergence of Machine Intelligence. He is also the publisher of Health Futures Digest, founded in 2003 as a monthly review and commentary on technological innovations and their consequences and implications for health policy and practice. He is a regular columnist for Hospitals & Health Networks Daily, an online publication of the American Hospital Association.

Copyright (c) 2010, 2011 David Ellis




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