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The scientific and practical challenge is determining how investigators can distinguish, with relatively limited initial evidence, which cases are more likely to involve production, solicitation of minors, and/or contact offending.
Many, but not all, Internet offenders are motivated by a sexual interest in children.
Some of the remaining countries prohibited child pornography under more general obscenity laws, but some countries had no legal prohibitions.
There is also variation in prohibitions of child pornography; for example, some countries (such as the United States) prohibit only visual depictions of real children, whereas other countries (such as Canada) prohibit depictions of fictional children (e.g., anime) or nonvisual depictions (e.g., audio recordings or stories).
It is hard to obtain precise estimates of Internet sexual offending in the United States, as there is no national system for integrating information about Internet offenders at the state level and there are state-by-state variations in the applicable laws.
However, the National Juvenile Online Victimization Study, conducted in 2000 and again in 2009, indicates that the number of arrests in the United States for Internet sex crimes has tripled over that time (Wolak, 2012; Wolak, Finkelhor, & Mitchell, 2011).
Other studies have also demonstrated a link between sexual interest in children and child pornography use through self-report surveys (e.g., Buschman et al., 2010; Riegel, 2004).
These results are consistent with what we know about the modal child pornography image seized by police, which depicts young girls who appear to be younger than age 12 and often depicts children in sexually explicit conduct (Collins, 2012; Quayle & Jones, 2011).
This indicates that Internet sexual offending is a new phenomenon that may not be influenced by the same contextual factors as other kinds of sexual or violent crime.An important research question is the extent to which Internet sex offenders represent a new type of sex offender, or whether they reflect the transformation of conventional sexual offending through the adoption of new technologies (Seto & Hanson, 2011).Whatever the explanations for this increasing demand, it is clear that the number of potential Internet offending investigations already greatly exceeds law enforcement resources. Many law enforcement agencies are still dealing with a backlog of cases arising from Operation Avalanche (an investigation that began after the discovery of Landslide Productions in Texas and its large database of members purchasing access to child pornography Web sites) and other, more recent international police operations that have identified very large numbers of online offending suspects.This has been demonstrated in a recent study showing that the majority of Canadian child pornography offenders assessed at a sexual behavior clinic showed more sexual arousal (assessed through penile plethysmography responses in the laboratory) to children than to adults, and in fact show a stronger relative response than do offenders with contact victims (Seto, Cantor, & Blanchard, 2006).As well, one-third to one-half of child pornography offenders interviewed by police or by clinicians admitted they were sexually interested in children or in child pornography content (e.g., Seto, Reeves, & Jung, 2010).