Washington's efforts in the late 1970's to stamp out child pornography by declaring it illegal were enormously effective, closing off traditional outlets for illicit images.
But the Internet soon presented an alternative. In the early 1980's, through postings on bulletin board systems, pedophiles went online to swap illegal images. From there, they could easily converse with others like themselves, and they found theirs to be a community of diverse backgrounds.
In the conversations observed by The Times, the pedophiles often discussed their personal lives. Their individual jobs were described as being a disc jockey at parties ("a high concentration of gorgeous" children, a man claiming to hold the job said); a pediatric nurse ("lots of looking but no touching"); a piano teacher ("I could tell you stories that would make you well I'll be good"); an employee at a water theme park ("bathing suits upon bathing suits!!!!!"); and a pediatrician specializing in gynecology ("No need to add anything more, I feel").
The most frequent job mentioned, however, was schoolteacher. A number of self-described teachers shared detailed observations about children in their classes, including events they considered sexual, like a second-grade boy holding his crotch during class.
The man relating that story held up that action as an expression of sexuality; he was not dissuaded when another participant in the conversation suggested that the boy might have just needed to go to the bathroom.
Some pedophiles revealed that they gained access to children through their own families. Some discussed how they married to be close to the children from their wives' previous marriages. Pedophiles who said they were fathers described moments involving their own children, such as a man who told of watching his sons change for swimming in a locker room, complete with details about the older boy's genitals and emerging pubic hair. Others insisted they would never feel any interest in their own children, but commented on the benefits presented by parenthood.
"I have a daughter and have never been attracted to her," a man with the screen name of jonboy wrote. But, he added, "I did find her friends very attractive."
Pedophiles chafe at suggestions that such comments reflect risks to minors. They point out, correctly, that family members and friends—not strangers—are the most frequent perpetrators of child sexual abuse. They never note, however, that the minors mentioned in their online discussions are most frequently those they know well, like relatives and children of friends.