The nature of internet-based sex offenses is examined in a recent study by Peter Briggs, Walter T. Simon and Stacey Simonsen, published in the March 2011 issue of Sexual Abuse. The authors explore the possibility that the internet has created an entirely new type of sex offender.
The study looks at 51 people convicted of an internet-initiated sex offense, in which they tried to establish a sexual relationship with a teenager in a chat room. Each subject’s offense-specific evaluation and chat room transcripts were used to generate data.
90% of those convicted were arrested as a result of an internet sex sting. Briggs, Simon and Simonsen conclude that internet chat room sex offenders are a distinct group of sex offenders characterized by less severe criminogenic factors than others. The authors also suggest that chat room sex offenders avoid relationships and spend a significant amount of time in online chat rooms as a primary social and sexual outlet, and engage in other sexually compulsive behaviors.
There are two subgroups within this distinct group of sex offenders: a contact-driven group which logs on to chat rooms in order to meet adolescents in person, and a fantasy-driven group motivated to engage an adolescent in online cybersex without an express intent to meet offline.
It is ultimately unclear whether or not internet sex stings prevent incidents of child sexual exploitation. Furthermore, they may result in convictions of individuals who may never have abused a child, ultimately presenting a dilemma to treatment-providers.