These were the findings of a four-month effort by The New York Times to learn about the pedophiles' online world by delving into their Internet communications. In recent months, new concerns have emerged about whether the ubiquitous nature of broadband technology, instant message communications and digital imagery is presenting new and poorly understood risks to children. Already, there have been many Congressional hearings on the topic, as well as efforts to write comprehensive legislation to address the issue.
But most of those efforts have focused on examining particular instances of harm to children. There have been few, if any, recent attempts to examine the pedophiles themselves, based on their own words to one another, to gain a better recognition of the nature of potential problems.
Last week, that world attracted new attention after reports that John M. Karr, who was arrested last Wednesday as a suspect in the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey, apparently used Internet discussion sites intensively in efforts to communicate with children, sometimes about sex. In e-mail messages to a journalism professor that investigators believe were written by Mr. Karr, statements about children seemed to echo the online dialogue among pedophiles.
"Sometimes little girls are closer to me than with their parents or any other person in their lives," the e-mail messages say. "I can only say that I can relate very well to children and the way they think and feel."
The recent conversations among pedophiles that were examined by The Times took place in virtual rooms in Internet Relay Chat, a text-based system allowing for real-time communications; on message boards on Usenet, which has postings by topic; and on Web sites catering to pedophiles.
In this online community, pedophiles view themselves as the vanguard of a nascent movement seeking legalization of child pornography and the loosening of age-of-consent laws. They portray themselves as battling for children's rights to engage in sex with adults, a fight they liken to the civil rights movement. And while their effort has brought little success, they celebrated online in May when a small group of men in the Netherlands formed a pedophile political party, and they rejoiced again last month when a Dutch court upheld the party's right to exist.