Despite the alarms that have been sounded about the alleged proliferation of child porn on the Internet, I think the claims are exaggerated and I have so far found no evidence that such material is easily accessible or prevalent.
Several weeks ago, there was a newspaper report with this headline: Child Porn Grows on Internet. According to the story, a professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., Michael Mehta, studied 9,800 images on the Internet from July 1995 to July 1996. During this time, in spite of the Communications Decency Act, which had been enacted by U.S. lawmakers to restrict the nature of adult content that could legally be displayed online, "the percentage of [pornographic] images involving children actually increased to 20 per cent from 15 per cent", according to Mehta.
There was little else in the story about the professor's methodology or findings, just a few quotes from the usual suspects - the police and Internet service providers. Mehta pointed out that pornographic Web sites are virtually the only ones that continue to be profitable and as a result are "driving the development of technology" as online consumers demand easier, faster access to better images.
Yet nothing in the story convinced me that child pornography is either more accessible or more widespread today because of the Internet, and all my attempts to actually find child porn sites failed. Not that I'm even sure what constitutes child porn for the good professor and the diligent teams of police officers who spend their working hours looking at pornographic Web sites. All of the sites I saw were careful to proclaim that their "models" were 18 or older. Does that mean anyone under 18 is a child?
In all my searches I was able to discover only three images of girls who appeared to be as young as 14 or 15. I wasn't exactly shocked - they weren't doing anything "depraved", but merely posing prettily in the nude like the pubescent nymphs in David Hamilton's celebrated (or condemned, depending on your point of view) famous photographs.
I have what I think is probably the average man's interest in pornography. Images of blond, silicon-breasted sirens doing what comes quite naturally have no particular appeal to me, yet they compromise probably 90 per cent of the so-called pornographic images I have seen on the Internet and in adult videos and magazines. Emulating the teams of grad students and police officers who sit in front of computer screens looking at pornography for thesis papers and paycheques, respectively, I typed in search words that I thought might reveal hard core child-porn sites.
"Preteen sex", "sexy toddlers", school girls", "chicken", and "child porn" all produced varying results, but none that I was looking for.
Parents who are worried that their children might come across porn sites while doing their homework have a legitimate concern. there are reportedly a quarter of a million porn Web sites on the Internet, and almost any query will turn up a list of matches and links that produce porn. That's because the folks who run the porn sites are smart enough to include insidious keywords on their pages so that even the most innocent query can open a window to pornography.
But pedophiles and child-porn freaks undoubtedly have their own secret codes and lingo - much as the gay subculture has and was forced to rely on when homosexual activity was against the law. If one knows the child-porn world's secret "hand shake" it is undoubtedly easier to connect.
As it is, many porn sites include enticements to view child porn, but without registering and handing over a credit card number, the casual browser is not easily going to find the real thing.
Make no mistake about it. There are undoubtedly thousands of disgusting and revolting Webs sites offering displays of every imaginable degenerate activity, including rape, bestiality, coprophilia, and sex with prepubescent children. But they are generally only available for money and they would be available with or without the Internet.