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Such a marketing approach proved effective for some online child pornography businesses that have disappeared over the last year, including those that offered illicit videos of children generated by Webcams.

The Times did not subscribe to any sites, which it first saw referenced in online conversations among pedophiles. The Times followed a link posted in those conversations to forum postings and images on freely accessible pages of the modeling sites. Because those sites appeared to be illegal, The Times was required by law to report what it had found to authorities. Federal law enforcement officials were notified in July about the sites. In contrast to their advertising, many of the sites portray themselves on their main pages as regular modeling agencies trying to find work for their talent. But executives in the legitimate modeling business said that virtually everything about the sites runs contrary to industry practice. Most child images for genuine agencies are password-protected, the executives said, with access granted to companies and casting agents only after a check of their backgrounds.

These executives said that real modeling agencies would refuse to use the types of sexualized images of children sought by pedophiles, not only because they are exploitative and illegal, but also because they would be bad business.

Such images on an agency Web site would drive away many parents who might be seeking representation for their child, executives said; indeed, most photographs of child models are nothing more than head shots. And the legitimate agents provide the phone numbers, addresses and names of their executives so potential clients can contact them; most of the sites aimed at pedophiles not only provide little or no means of contact, but even hide the identities of the owners behind anonymous site registrations.

"These are clearly not bona fide companies, and it's obvious these are just Web sites for people to go on and view children in an unhealthy manner," Bonnie Breen, chief booker for the Bizzykidz Agency, a prominent modeling agency for children based in London, said when provided with a description of the emerging modeling sites.

Despite repeated statements on the sites that they are lawful, they may well run afoul of American law. While the issues are far from settled — thus leading to the attempts by Congress to clarify the law — courts have worked over the last two decades to define standards for what constitutes potentially illegal images of children.

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