Internet Sexual Predators: Protecting Children in the Global Cornmunity

Author:Madeleine Mercedes Plasencia
Position:Assistant Professor of Law, University of Tulsa CoIlege of Law.

I. Introduction· II. Children At Risk III. The Internet Predator A. The Faces ofthe Predator B. The San Jose-Vietnam Case C. The Oklahoma Cases D. The Oklahoma to Illinois Cases E. The California Cases F. The Washington Case IV. A New Generation Of Mail-Order Brilles And Grooms V. Virtual Abuse VI. Legislative Responses To The Problem VII.Jurismctional Issues A. The Standardfor Extraterritorial... (see full summary)


    Madeleine Mercedes Plasencia, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Tulsa CoIlege of Law. I thank Byrgen Finkelman for reviewing many versions of this Aniele and providing expert guidance in construction and refinement of the piece as it progressed. Thanks go to Berta Hemández-Truyol for suggesting this venue, Patricia Cain for moral support, Dean Martin H. Belsky for pointing me in the direction of human rights and intemational child rights materials, Marianne BIair for intemational family law insights, and tremendous research support from my assistants, Matthew Wood. Catherine MitcheIl, and Douglas Murphy. Thanks to the staffofThe University ofIowaJoumal ofGender, Race & Justice, and particularly to editors Adam Rodriguez, Anel Dominguez, and Erich Buckfor comrnentary and support. Thanks go to contributions made by the participants and audience of the fourth annual syrnposium, A Critical Legal Perspective on Entertainment: Sports, Sex and ldentity, hosted by The Joumal of Gender, Race & Justice on October 15-16,1999. The original version ofthis Artiele was presented at the syrnposium. FinaIly, this Aniele was supported by the Sumrner Research Grant awarded by the University of Tulsa, 1999. Anyerrors or omissions in the Aniele are exelusiveIy those of the author.

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"[C]yberspace"-located in no particular geographicallocation but available to anyone, anywhere in the world, with access to the Internet.1

I'm riding on theBART in San Francisco; the young man in front of me Page 16 reads through the sports scores as 1, without his knowing or probably caring, sean the "Bay Area" section of his San Francisco Chfonicle. San Jose Man Charged in Sex PrisonerScheme Plan to bring Viet Girl to U.S. reads one news item.2 I immediately ask for the page, and he handsit over. The amele isabout a forty-one-year-old man living in San Jose, California, and his sexual relationship with a thirteen-year-old Vietnamese girlliving in Vietnam~ How did a San Jose adult man and a Vietnamese child become· sexually involved? He found her through the Internet.3

I Introducnon

The Internet, serving as the largest network ofcomputérs in the world, has provided the horizontal parallax over which all can participate in communication and transaction, education and entertainment4 It also serves a community of participants and beneficiaries whose goals are not always shared or legal. The rise of this advanced technology has led to a new "red light district." Unlike the physical spaces available for the distribution of pornography and sexual favors for money, the Internet, with its lack of structure, has led to an unimagioable amouot ofpornography available for any on-1Íoe spectator.5 Information necessary for coosummatioo of transactions io the sex economy worldwide is more easily available than ever before. Moreover, children worldwide are now at greater risk than ever before.6

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In Part nofthis Article, 1discuss how the Internet puts children at greater risk. Part ID is an examination of cases arising out of Internet use that led to abuse of children. Part IV explores the Internet and the mail-order bride business as it affects children outside the United States. In Part V, 1 discuss crimes involving what is termed "virtual abuse." Part YI covers legislative responses to the problem. In Part VIT, I examine jurisdictional problems encountered with crimes invo~ving cyberspace. Finally, Part VIII provides my conclusions and a caveat.

II Children Atrisk

With quick and anonyrnous virtual travel made possible through the Internet, pedophiles are "logging on" and forming chat groups, swapping pornographic images and sharing true stories of sexual activity with children.7

This process of bonding with other pedophiles by forming support sites in cyberspace has been referred to as "virtual validation.,,8 The danger of virtual validation is that conduct that would otherwise be subject to criminal sanctions is validated by other pedophiles. Supported and encouraged fantasy triggers action in the real world. Provocativt? images of child pornography, stories of sex and other cornmunity-supported chat bolster and empower a pedophile's sense of self. The pedophile, in return, is more likely to acto "Pedophiles who make contact with children have a developmental pattern," says Dr. Chris Hatcher, a clinical psychology professor.9 "It begins with fantasy, moves to gratification through pornography, then voyeurism, and finally to contacto The Internet accelerates that pattern. It quick1y gives pedophiles a level of virtual validation that would have otherwise taken years to obtain."10 And, it makes it easier for pedophiles to access vulnerable children.

The Internet also makes enforcement of existing laws, especially those prohibiting child pornography, extremely difficult. In 1982, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on the distribution of materials depicting children engaged in Page 18 sexual conduct.11 The Internet, with its mushrooming popularity, has done an end-run around enforcement procedures traditionallyused to seize and limit the physical entry of child pornography into the United States. With the advent of increased technology such as the digital camera, pedophiles are able to produce images direct1y on-line. No photo shop need be involved, and no traditional enforcement scheme works in this paperless environment. And as theSan Jose case demonstrates, pedophilia is no longer contained by local, state, or national boundaries.

III The lnternetpredator
A The Faces ofthe Predator

The FBI indicates that the profile ofthe United States pedophile is "young, white and wealthy.,,12 The disappearance of a child linked to Internet child traffickers prompted FBI agents to ·launch the "The Innocent Images" investigation project in 1993.13 Since its inception, 413 people have been arrested and 337 convicted ofon-line child pornography trafficking or using the Internet to solicit children for sex.14 "Only a handfu1 have not been upper-c1ass, educated white men," according to Special Agent Pete Gulotta. 15 Most often, pedophiles discovered surfing for children on the Internethave been "military officers with high c1earances, pediatricians, lawyers, school principals, and tech executives.,,16 Successful pedophiles "are better with your children than you are. They give them more attention. They are your swim coach, your Sunday school teacher-people you trust to come into contact with your child every single day.,,17 Your average pedophile "is not the dirty old man Page 19 in a trench coat, but a teacher at your local elementary school. The Internet becomes his outlet.,,18 As the cases below derilónstrate, absent the Internet, the men would never have met the children.

B The San lose-Vietnam Case

OnSeptember 24, 1999, Michael David Rostoker was arrested in San Jose, California for "traveling to engage in sex with a minor and enticing someone under 18 into sexualactivity.,,19 Rostoker was no ordinary fellow. He was a forty-one-year-old engineer, chief executive officer of a software research company and a well-known and respected patent attorney.20 He was president and owner of a subsidiary of the Kawasaki Group, a corporate conglomerate numbering in Forbes's top fifty revenue-grossing companies of 1999.21 Rostoker once designed computer systems for General Electric and was inhouse counsel for Intel. In fact, in 1998, he was in the LL.M. program at Stanford University School ofLaW.22 Yet, socially, Rostoker had a secret of sorts. His sexual partner was a child who lived in Vietnam, twelve hundred miles from his home in San Jose.23 But that did not deter Rostoker. He traveled eleven times to Vietnam in 1999 to meet with the then tbirteen-year-old girl.24 Access to the child cost money; Rostoker paid the girl's family $150,000 to "buy her.,,25 To secure bis sexual opportunities, he also paid$900 a month to the girl's family in order to make her available to him for sex on a visit-by-visit basis.26 Eventually, he decided he wanted her to live with him, as bis "sex slave" in the United States. Rostoker concocted a plan to keep the girl "secure" Page 20 in his country home, tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains. FBI agents apprehended him at the San Francisco airport on bis way to pick her up in Vietnam and fly her back with him.27 He was indicted and held on a two million dollar bond.28

How did such a bizarre case arise? Rostoker was able to make Internet contact with a girl broker, pay the broker, and set up an e-mail account to cornmunicate with the child.29 Ironically, Rostoker' s cache ofseducing e-mails was a key element in uncovering the child sex scheme.30 Each of the eleven times Rostoker boarded the airplane to Vietnam, he did so with the intention of having sexual contact with a child, albeit in a foreign country.31 This was sufficient to criminally indict bim in any jurisdiction in the United States.32

C The Oklahoma Cases -

Another example ofexploitation, this time in the heartland, occurred when a child pornography ring was discovered in Northeast Oklahoma and became the recurring news item during the doldrums ofthe pre-football season on local. television in October of 1999.33 The reports revealed a long history ofInternet sexual staIking of cbildren by adults that included systematic and...

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