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28 June, 2007

Child Sex Abuse Online is Nothing New

It's interesting that the American military is asking the Australian government to 'waive its authority' in the case of one of their sailors charged with grooming an Australian child for sex over the internet, to send him home and let them deal with it. (Of course, they didn't send David Hicks home – or even charge him with anything for five years – but then, the Australian government didn't actually ask for him back.) And now the media is in a froth (again) over how paedophiles are stalking children in chat rooms, etc.. Apparently, the situation is so bad that the police only have to post a pretend profile of a 14 year-old girl, say, on MySpace (or wherever) and they are immediately bombarded with offers of offers of friendship by Strange Men. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

The pundits are out with their folk psychology suggesting how the feeling of anonymity the internet gives these men encourages them to pursue their child molestation fantasies past the point where they are normally able. They are alarmed that this predation and stalking of children is on the increase. They are shocked that paedophilia seems to be getting more popular as a mental disorder. The ones that make the news are just the tip of a large and growing iceberg. And so on.

But the whole internet stalking thing seems to require a simpler and less dramatic explanation.
Sociology is not for the faint-hearted. In fact any student of human nature is likely to learn lots of things they might have preferred not to know. For instance, I once learned that sexual abuse of girls by their fathers is far more common in situations where the children and adults have to share the same sleeping area. Thus, in the UK, this kind of incest was far more common in the heyday of the industrial revolution when squalid overcrowding was the norm in the big cities. Today, it is more common now in poor societies than in rich and in the poorest segments of rich societies than in the wealthiest. (No coincidence then that the Australian Federal Police and the Army are forming a task force as we speak to go up to the Northern Territory and quash alleged rampant child abuse in Aboriginal communities.) What can you conclude about this except that the amount of temptation and opportunity to commit incestuous child abuse is all that separates the perpetrators from the rest.

In fact, it seems to be the case for child sex abuse in general (typically, we're talking about adult males preying on under-age females here – although little boys also get their share of the unwanted attention). Which is probably why our societies just happen to be organised so as to keep men and girls apart – on the whole – and why it's in those areas of life where men and girls are brought together that the most sex abuse occurs (the home and schools).

So why is it a surprise that the internet – a great big place where adult males and children are all squished together in close proximity – is proving to be such a hotbed of child sex abuse? Suddenly, all these men – whom history has shown need only to get enough temptation to start yielding to it – are surrounded by the little cuties they are normally kept away from. Isn't it obvious that they are going to go on a feeding frenzy?

And there's only one tried and tested remedy for the situation. Do what we do out in the physical world and arrange things online so that the men and the girls (and the boys) are kept apart.

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