"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Technology Empowers (Some) Individuals

The truth that great power brings great responsibility applies to all of us, and it is reinforced in the current The New York Times story on a natural evolution in the use of the webcam: live pornography of children and adolescents. Modern telecom technology confers great power to us very ordinary individuals, and naturally enough, that power is often used for great evil. In our modern society of easy divorce and family breakups, the young are at truly severe risk as they become instantly connected to the entire world and are vulnerable to the manipulation of wily strangers who know exactly how to use these people's insecurities to obtain their own perverse gratifications:

Justin had hooked up a Web camera to his computer, hoping to use it to meet other teenagers online. Instead, he heard only from men who chatted with him by instant message as they watched his image on the Internet. To Justin, they seemed just like friends, ready with compliments and always offering gifts.

Now, on an afternoon in 2000, one member of his audience sent a proposal: he would pay Justin $50 to sit bare-chested in front of his Webcam for three minutes. The man explained that Justin could receive the money instantly and helped him open an account on PayPal.com, an online payment system.

"I figured, I took off my shirt at the pool for nothing," he said recently. "So, I was kind of like, what's the difference?"

Justin removed his T-shirt. The men watching him oozed compliments.

So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into performing in front of the Webcam - undressing, showering, masturbating and even having sex - for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The power of cheap, widely distributed technology, which is of course a very good thing overall, has made this sort of activity possible and indeed common:

Not long ago, the distribution of child pornography in America was a smallish trade, relegated to back rooms and corners where even the proprietors of X-rated bookstores refused to loiter.

By the mid-1980's, however, technology had transformed the business, with pedophiles going online to communicate anonymously and post images through rudimentary bulletin board systems. As Internet use boomed in the 1990's, these adults honed their computer skills, finding advanced ways to meet online and swap illegal photos; images once hard to obtain were suddenly available with the click of a mouse.

As the decade drew to a close, according to experts and records of online conversations, these adults began openly fantasizing of the day they would be able to reach out to children directly, through instant messaging and live video, to obtain the pornography they desired.


Their dream was realized with the Web camera, which transformed online pornography the way the automobile changed transportation. . . .


By 2000, things had worked out exactly the way the pedophiles hoped. Webcams were the rage among computer-savvy minors, creating a bountiful selection of potential targets.


Through the same technology, the users can easily communicate the tricks of their appalling trade with one another, honing their skills at exploitation and providing justifications for their actions:

Not long ago, adults sexually attracted to children were largely isolated from one another. But the Internet has created a virtual community where they can readily communicate and reinforce their feelings, experts said.

Indeed, the messages they send among themselves provide not only self-justification, but also often blame minors with Webcam sites for offering temptation."


These kids are the ones being manipulative," wrote an adult who called himself Upandc in a posting this year to a bulletin board for adults attracted to children.


Or, as an adult who called himself DLW wrote: "Did a sexual predator MAKE them make a site? No. Did they decide to do it for themselves? Yes."


The central narrative of the story includes other ghastly facts, including meetings of a boy with molesters and the involvement of his father in the scheme.

These are, of course, developments that we had to expect, but the ubuquity of the phenomenon is hair-raising, and the story is a rather depressing though necessary read.

One more thing. Although we often hear tales about journalists exploiting people for a story, there are also instances of great good that people in our profession do, beyond just presenting the news. In that light, I wish to commend the author of this story, Kurt Eichenweld, for his immensely honorable actions toward the young man at the center of the narrative. Eichenweld's part in the story is not emphasized in his article, but it is quite inspiring.

12 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"In our modern society of easy divorce and family breakups, the young are at truly severe risk"

And you can support this contention how, exactly? Seems like this is a glaring weak spot in an otherwise quite good post. Remember that the vast majority of sexual abuse of children is conducted by family members not strangers. Not exactly something you can pin on divorce.

tbmbuzz said...

The contention is supported by common sense. Is it your contention that the increased number of divorces and family breakups with the inevitable diminishing of parental influence and supervision of their kids in our modern society has NO effect? Is it your contention that the family/stranger ratio of sexual abuse of kids has remained the same over the past half century? (roll eyes)

Tlaloc said...

"The contention is supported by common sense."

No not really. Reread the part about most abuse being perpetrated by FAMILY members.


"Is it your contention that the increased number of divorces and family breakups with the inevitable diminishing of parental influence and supervision of their kids in our modern society has NO effect?"

Well logically if family member are the most likely to abuse a child and family breakups result in the child being around family members less then that can only help reduce the number of abuse cases. Stop me when you see where this is going...



"Is it your contention that the family/stranger ratio of sexual abuse of kids has remained the same over the past half century? (roll eyes)"

No probably not but so long as the family remains by far the biggest contributor the stranger component is really nothing more than a diversion. It's always easier to worry about some stranger abusing your kids than it is about your loved ones abusing your kids. Easier, but a cop out.

JC said...

I'm confused... Are you suggesting that divorce is good for the kids?

Tlaloc said...

whoops that should be "although a case can be made that letting parents divorce is healthier for kids than a marriage of constant fighting."

connie deady said...

Well I would agree with the thesis that break up of family makes preying on children that much easier. Children of broken homes often go through times of great insecurity, anger, frustration and are ripe to be manipulated. Also, households with two working parents leave children far less monitored and in touch with their parents. There is a lot to be said for families that have set up good lines of communication.

That doesn't mean I yearn for the good ole days of Ozzie and Harriet. We can't go back. The challenge is how to we go forward and rebuild families and communities in a world where everything and everyone is both closer and more isolated at the same time.

ChETHB said...

I fail to see how mention of sexual abuse by family members has any bearing on this post. Quite simply, technology has reached the point where enterprising youngsters can easily be exposed to the world of pedophiles. It is, or should be, obvious that a computer literate child in a single parent home is likely to have a lot more time available to dabble where he shouldn't than one who has closer parental oversight. We need to continue to worry about sexual abuse by family. It's just that technology has opened up a vast new area for worry.

Tlaloc said...

" Quite simply, technology has reached the point where enterprising youngsters can easily be exposed to the world of pedophiles."

sure. But again until the proportion of sexual abuse gets anywhere near the level that comes from kids own family this is just a distraction. It's like hyping tazers for women to prevent rape by strangers even though rape by strangers is such a tiny percentage of rape as to be virtually non-existent. If we want to talk rap lets talk about acquaintance rape. If we want to talk child sexual abuse lets talk about it by family members. That is what we in problem solving call the low hanging fruit.



"It is, or should be, obvious that a computer literate child in a single parent home is likely to have a lot more time available to dabble where he shouldn't than one who has closer parental oversight."

It's associating "single parent home" with "less parental oversight" where you lose the logical thread. I can tell you absolutely my kids have closer oversight now that my wife and I are divorced, and whats more they have overlapping oversight because I am careful to look for any signs that they may be abused at mommies house and I bet she does the same for my house. That's sunstantially better protection.

Again you cannot assume that becasue the parents live together they pay more attention to their kids. Indeed if we are talking about preventing divorce it's entirely likely that many bitter feuding parents will be so wrapped up in fighting each other that they will pay less attention.

This is a clear attempt to connect a real problem (child abuse) to something that a few percieve as a problem (divorce).

James Elliott said...

As someone who has worked with sexually abused children for the last four years (both professionally and in volunteer work), I'd like to thank Mr. Karnick for this post. Victimization is made easier by the technology available to us today. However, its prevalence is somewhat hyped by articles like Mr. Eichenwald's and TV shows like "Law and Order: SVU."

This is not to say the danger doesn't exist: It clearly does. But Tlaloc is quite correct in pointing out that the majority of sexual abuse victims (male and female) are abused by their white, middle-class, heterosexually married fathers, followed closely by unmarried male relatives. Poor supervision, low self-esteem, disengagement, and so on - stemming from many possibilities, of which divorce is one - are just a few in a myriad of risk factors that can increase the possibility of victimization.

brmerrick said...

I can honestly say that I agree with everyone on the above posts, in spite of the fact that they all seem to disagree with Tlaloc. He makes a good point about oversight. And oversight is indeed the key.

I can look at my own growing-up situation (free from abuse), and that of some peers who were molested, and I can see in our families how our parents did in fact love us, and had desires to help, but to a very limited extent. And I believe there are a lot of parents out there that are the same. The mad dash for "donors" on the part of single women is testament to the idea of having children like one has other possessions. Parents like this are more likely to provide less oversight.

However:

'"In our modern society of easy divorce and family breakups, the young are at truly severe risk"

And you can support this contention how, exactly?'

Tlaloc, this is part of the "oversight" problem. In your case, it appears that you and your ex are making an effort to provide as much oversight in your difficult situation as possible. But with rampant unconcern for kids and their problems on the part of MARRIED couples, how much more likely are these same parents to provide extra oversight in the event of a divorce, whether or not the divorce was caused by abuse?

The technology is speeding up the process, but like all other technological marvels, it is morally neutral. A kid from a home with oversight and loving, attentive parents will leave the chat room when he/she discerns the evil intentions of other posters. The kid without Tlaloc-like parents will succumb, if not with this technological advancement, then in some other fashion, with a stranger or a friend.

In conclusion, oversight in this day and age will mean asking questions, installing software so you can see where your kid has been, verbal and physical expressions of affection, and adequate warnings of the dangers of living in this world. To put it more bluntly, Dr. Laura was right: don't have 'em if you don't wanna raise 'em.

Tlaloc said...

Let me make my case like this:

the contention is that married parents are more attentive to their kids.

However it is still not uncommon f rot he kids of wealth married couples to be raised by a nanny. Poorer families often make use of day care facilities. There are in fact 1.3 million child care providers in america according to labor statistics. The assumption that divorced parents make use of these facilities more than married parents is unsupported by any data provided so far.

My point is this there is absolutely nothing inherent to the state of being married that makes one an attentive parent. There is also nothing inherent to the state of being single or divorced that makes one an inattentive parent. Yes, single parents generally work, but and I know this isn't news to the resident economists, a great many married couples are two income houses.

The association is quite simply without merit.

James Elliott said...

Excellent comment, Merrick. However, this is a problem:

"The mad dash for "donors" on the part of single women is testament to the idea of having children like one has other possessions. Parents like this are more likely to provide less oversight."

It seems that the above is just as guilty as Karnick's "divorce" line of faulty reasoning. You're equating two things that aren't causal - in fact, you'd have a hard time proving they're more than mildly correlationary. Oversight is just one of the many risk factors. I've known or worked with people from the most caring, vigilant, and involved of families that suffer stranger and/or familial sexual abuse. There is no one cure-all and no one major correlationary or causal factor.