Pervs on the prowl
Internet porn has taken a criminal turn
By NATALIE PONA, STAFF REPORTER
A blood-encrusted woman is gang-raped and apparently murdered. A three-year-old is blindfolded and forced to perform oral sex. Welcome to the World Wide Web, a technology capable of turning some people into sex offenders, experts suggest.
"This is new for forensic psychologists," said Dr. Al Cooper, a California-based therapist and author of Sex and the Internet: A Guidebook for Clinicians.
"What we're finding is a lot of these people have no past history of sexual problems ... and we believe they would not have had problems without the Internet."
Take the case of the 21-year-old Winnipeg man who allegedly lured a teen from her home Jan. 10. He allegedly gave her marijuana then videotaped himself sexually assaulting her, said Stonewall RCMP Sgt. Gerry Thomas. The attack was interrupted by a passing RCMP officer.
Although the man met the girl on the Internet and recorded the assault with a digital video camera, Thomas couldn't say if the accused got the idea from online exploration. The man didn't have a criminal record, he added.
Cooper said under some circumstances, a link could be made between crimes, such as the Stonewall incident, and the Internet.
Websites embracing the drugging and raping of unsuspecting women abound. Although many sites state they are fantasy, it's a message that would be lost on a person with difficulty distinguishing that from reality, Cooper said.
Sex depicting consenting adults no longer sells, Cooper said. And that "vanilla-flavoured" porn is not the problem.
"More graphic, more weird, more fetishistic," he said. "A disturbing trend we're seeing is towards children and violence."
Dr. Bill Marshall, professor emeritus at Queen's University and director of Rockwood Psychological Services in Kingston, Ont., estimated 1% of offenders could have been motivated by the Internet.
"With human behaviour, I think anything is possible," Marshall said.
Some users get bored with ordinary porn, he said.
"But very few people access illegal stuff at all," said Marshall, who has been working with offenders for more than 35 years. "Porn is not a slippery slope for all but for a remarkably small percentage of people."
Cooper said there are three types of Internet porn consumers. Up to 90% are casual users. Those in the second group have a history of problems that may be rekindled by illegal porn, he said.
The third type of user would not have had criminal sexual problems were it not for the Internet, Cooper said.
This offender is fuelled by the three As of online porn: accessibility, affordability and anonymity, Cooper said.
"Because of that triple A, they kind of escalate and slowly meander into having sexual problems," Cooper said.
He said the Internet creates a community of people interested in criminal sexual behaviour -- such as child abuse and rape -- and then insulates it from the rest of society.
"They go on the Internet and learn 'Hey, I'm not the only one, I'm not sick.' You find 20 other people who do the same thing and it makes you feel you're not alone," Cooper said.
'FANTASY ISN'T ENOUGH'
"After a while fantasy isn't enough. It kind of normalizes it for you. You start thinking if someone else did this, maybe it's OK if I do it."
Staff Sgt. Boyd Campbell, who heads the Winnipeg police sex crimes unit, compared the illegal Internet porn consumer with a crack addict. After a while, images of a 20-year-old women having consensual sex are no longer enough.
That person's tastes spiral into the criminal, Campbell said.
"You're always looking for a higher high all the time," he said. "Kids are getting younger, weapons, bondage, drugs. It's being fed upon and fuelled by the Internet."
Campbell wouldn't speculate whether sex offenders would have ventured into crime without the Internet.
"Does it allow them to explore those fantasies? Yes," he said. "If the Internet has done anything, it's given them the ability to research their interests."
The key to understanding the link between sex crimes and the Internet is more research, Cooper said.
"We're starting to have some idea about some factors that contribute," he said. "The Internet is revolutionizing sexuality, for both the good and the bad."
Public education about the lure of the Web is central to prevention, Cooper said.
"Warn them about the ways it can destroy your life," he said.