TORONTO — Even with more funding and more resources, law enforcement agencies will continue to lose the fight against child pornography and Internet predators due to the overwhelming number of cases, an international conference on sexual offenders heard Wednesday.
"One of the challenges on the law enforcement side is that there are so many people involved in this activity. They can't keep up," said Michael Seto, following his presentation Wednesday at the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers conference in downtown Toronto.
"All the police work and all the time (in the world) are not going to be able to investigate every single one of these people."
Seto, the director of Forensic Rehabilitation Research at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group in Brockville, Ont., has been studying the emerging trend of Internet sexual offenders since 2004.
He believes the only way police agencies can make a dent in decreasing child pornography and Internet luring is to prioritize whom they will target for arrests and prosecution.
According to his research, those who are at a higher risk to move from viewing and possessing child pornography to assaulting children are more likely to have records for sexual and non-sexual crimes, work or live with children, and have anti-social behaviour such as substance abuse issues.
There are also some characteristics that unify Internet predators.
An overwhelming majority are male Caucasians likely to have pedophiliac preferences and have little to no criminal history. Compared to traditional sex offenders, like those convicted of sexual assault and rape, online-based offenders have higher IQs and higher educational backgrounds.
The majority are between the ages of 18-24, according to 2009 statistics, said Seto.
As a group, these offenders have also learned how to evade the authorities in the "wild, wild West" of the Internet by distributing illicit images and videos through peer-to-peer file sharing, password-protected websites, chat rooms and anonymous email programs.
Those who are caught by police are the most "naive and less knowledgeable" of the group, which throws into question what an underestimation current research and statistics in this area are can be.
Seto attributes the rapidly growing number of child pornography cases to what is known as the "3 As" of the Internet: accessibility, affordability and anonymity.
"For some people, at least online, it feels like a safer place to explore their interests and a safer place to communicate with other people," said Seto. "You can go online and if you know what it is you're doing — you can access it in the privacy of your own home. You don't think it can be traced to you, but it can."
He admits that some of the "gaps" in the combating these crimes is a lack of treatment options. Currently, Internet-based offenders are being treated in mainly the same methods and duration as traditional offenders, which have not been proven to lessen the number of future online offences.
"The challenge is that we know longer sentences don't reduce offences. Society views this as a serious crime," said Seto. "There's no evidence that kind of thing works."
Instead, more resources should be put into how to prevent these offences from occurring in the first places either through therapy or completely limiting access to these images, particularly now that more people continue to go online, he said.
More than 1,000 international experts were expected to attend the four-day conference, which will touch on a variety of topics including sexual abuse in the Catholic clergy to effective treatment for these inmates in Canadian prisons.