- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

A nearly twenty-fold increase in pornographic Web pages, coupled with burgeoning use of high-speed Internet access and file sharing, is likely to lead to higher levels of “cyber-sex” addiction and related problems, say anti-porn groups.

“The problem is exponentially increasing and it’s very dangerous for families, especially children,” said Jan LaRue, chief counsel at Concerned Women for America.

Just last month, she said, the Department of Homeland Security announced that since July, it has arrested 1,000 suspected child-sex offenders, including 400 charged with making or distributing child pornography on the Internet.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is also causing concern.

“Unfortunately, pedophiles and pornographers use these networks to distribute pornography,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, who this summer co-sponsored a bill to require parental consent before a child could download P2P software such as Kazaa, Grokster or Morpheus.

“The most hard-core pornographic videos imaginable” can be downloaded in a matter of minutes if a child has a broadband Internet connection and P2P software, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, said at a House hearing in March.

Pornography on the Internet is exploding, says N2H2, a Seattle-based software-filter company.

The number of commercial pornography Internet sites in the N2H2 database has reached 1.3 million, said spokesman David Burt. This is nearly 1,800 percent more than in 1998, when N2H2 counted 71,000 pornographic Web sites.

The company estimates that each Web site has 200 pages of material, so the number of pornographic Web pages has grown from 14 million to 260 million.

“We think this estimate is reliable,” said Mr. Burt, because the Internet search engine Google finds 80 million references to “porn,” “and that’s not all of them.”

N2H2’s numbers are considerably higher than the 400,000 sexually explicit Web sites reported in the National Research Council’s (NRC) massive 2002 report, “Youth, Pornography and the Internet.” Pornography appeared to be a minuscule part of Internet content — less than 2 percent, the report said.

“However, these [adult] sites account for a significant amount of Web traffic,” said the report, which estimated that the adult online industry makes $1 billion a year and could grow to $5 billion in a few years.

Children are unlikely to get full access to adult Web sites unless they have credit cards, the NRC report said, but other tactics used by adult-site owners to attract new customers are as likely to catch children as adults.

Common come-ons include sexual “spam” e-mails, paying search-engine companies to give adult sites “more prominent placement” in their results, acquiring site domains with sexually oriented or commonly misspelled words, and “mousetrapping,” which means paying a Web site to force everyone exiting that site onto an adult site.

“A mousetrapped user who tries to leave a sexually explicit site is automatically forwarded to another such site,” said the NRC report. When many adult sites are mousetrapped in succession, “the user is caught in a virtually endless sequence” of explicit Web pages — the only way out is to restart the computer.

“Mousetrapping … often results in user panic, especially if the user is a child,” the report noted.

The new Amber Alert law criminalizes mousetrapping and last month, Florida law enforcement officials caught their first suspect — a man with a long history of spamming.

The explosion of Internet pornography is likely to lead to bigger problems with cyber-sex addiction, said psychologist Kimberly S. Young, who runs the Center for On-Line Addiction in Pennsylvania.

Only a small portion of Internet users — 10 percent or less — is likely to become obsessed with pornography, said Ms. Young, who has been studying Internet addiction since 1994 and is the author of “Tangled in the Web: Understanding Cybersex from Fantasy to Addiction.”

However, cyber-sex is often destructive to marriages, personal relationships, job performance and school achievement, she said.

While most cyber-sex addicts are men, women are susceptible to explicit chat rooms where they can play out their fantasies.

“A woman might never want bondage with her husband, but she can get obsessed with having cyber-lovers online fighting over her,” said Ms. Young. The solution, she added, is to treat Internet addiction like food addiction — control its intake, get therapy and develop relapse-prevention strategies.

The latest front in the war against pornography involves P2P file sharing.

The first big P2P, Napster, took off several years ago when people discovered that their Napster software service allowed them to freely find and download music from other Napster users.

At Napster’s height, an estimated 70 million people used it to share music. Lawsuits by the music industry have now forced it into bankruptcy.

Dozens of new P2P companies have since sprung up, with technology that defies filters and makes pornographic materials as easily available as any other file.

“Although many people associate P2P with the trading of songs and movies, access to pornography is the primary reason people use the programs,” Doug Jacobson, president of Palisade Systems network-defense company in Ames, Iowa, told a Senate hearing last month.

After analyzing 22 million searches on file-sharing networks, Palisade found that 73 percent of all movie searches were for pornography, 24 percent of all image searches were for child pornography and only 3 percent of searches were for nonpornographic or noncopyrighted materials, Mr. Jacobson testified.

Internet researchers, including members of the 2000 Commission on Child Online Protection (COPA), have urged parents and adults to use filters and teach children Internet safety. COPA also called for industry self-regulation.

Others, like Mrs. LaRue, believe much more must be done. “It’s going to take a war on the industry. It’s out of control … and the more of it that’s available, the more at risk children are,” she said.

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