At first blush, the two conversations—taking place almost simultaneously in different corners of the Internet—might have seemed unremarkable, even humdrum.
In April, with summer fast approaching, both groups of online friends chatted about jobs at children's camps. Did anyone, one man asked, know of girls' camps willing to hire adult males as counselors? Meanwhile, elsewhere in cyberspace, the second group celebrated the news that one of their own had been offered a job leading a boys' cabin at a sleep-away camp.
But participants in the conversation did not focus on the work. "Hope you see some naked boys in your cabin," a man calling himself PPC responded. "And good luck while restraining yourself from doing anything."
The two groups were made up of self-proclaimed pedophiles—one attracted to under-age girls, the other to boys. Their dialogue runs at all hours in an array of chat rooms, bulletin boards and Web sites set up for adults attracted to children.
But it is no longer just chatter in the ether. What started online almost two decades ago as a means of swapping child pornography has transformed in recent years into a more complex and diversified community that uses the virtual world to advance its interests in the real one.
Today, pedophiles go online to seek tips for getting near children—at camps, through foster care, at community gatherings and at countless other events. They swap stories about day-to-day encounters with minors. And they make use of technology to help take their arguments to others, like sharing online a printable booklet to be distributed to children that extols the benefits of sex with adults.
The community's online infrastructure is surprisingly elaborate. There are Internet radio stations run by and for pedophiles; a putative charity that raised money to send Eastern European children to a camp where they were apparently visited by pedophiles; and an online jewelry company that markets pendants proclaiming the wearer as being sexually attracted to children, allowing anyone in the know to recognize them.