Pete Townshend's arrest this week has brought the issue of child pornography on the Internet to the fore. The Who guitarist was arrested in London on Monday on suspicion of making and possessing indecent images of children, and of incitement to distribute them, according to the Associated Press.
The musician admitted over the weekend that he had used a credit card to look at a Texas-based Web site but said he did so only as research for an autobiography in which he planned to address his own alleged childhood sexual abuse. The 57-year-old was quoted in the English newspaper The Sun, "I have looked at child porn sites maybe three or four times in all, the front pages and previews. I have only entered once using a credit card, and I have never downloaded."
While the issue of child pornography on the Web is now receiving massive media attention, it's already been on the radar in an unlikely place--the porn industry itself. Joan Irvine is the executive director of Adult Sites Against Child Pornography (ASACP), a group of over 2,000 adult sites that's come together to fight the sexual exploitation of children. The organization will soon start reviewing their members' sites and--if no child porn is found--bestow what Irvine calls a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval-style certification" so visitors know there's nothing illegal on the site. Irvine spoke to NEWSWEEK's Steve Friess about Townshend, her organization and the many hours she's spent policing the Web for child porn. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Is the Pete Townshend Internet child porn case a cautionary tale for everyday people?
Oh, yes. This is the way most people get caught. They use their credit card. Every single credit card processor is happy to work with the authorities.
You're suspicious of someone who says they looked three or four times for "research"?
Yes. This is Pete Townshend. He's high-profile enough that if he called Scotland Yard and said, "I'm doing research on this, can you put me in touch with someone?" they would have been very happy to help. He made a fatal error by not going to law enforcement. Last week at Internext [the annual conference in Las Vegas for the Internet porn business], I found that most of the people had never, ever viewed child porn even though they're in the porn industry. They don't want to see it. To them, it's horrible and vile, and they wouldn't even touch it.
What's your impression of the Townshend coverage so far?
I don't know whether it's sensationalized, but the story shows that law enforcement agencies on an international basis are being very diligent about child pornography. And it demonstrates to the general public that they should not be viewing child porn for any reason. They should pass on any suspected child pornography to agencies such as ours or to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Or Townshend should have talked to somebody in London.
While this is clearly unfortunate for Townshend, does it help your cause? Is it a good thing?
It proves that, on an international basis, law enforcement are working together and they will find you. It's a priority to them, which is extremely important because it's going to protect our children. And it does bring up the issue in the media so the general public can become aware of how rampant it is.
Let's talk about your role at Adult Sites Against Child Pornography. What does the organization hope to accomplish?
In the four years that we've been keeping track, cumulatively, we've had 60,000 reports sent to us of child pornography and we've reported 19,000 of them to the FBI. About 9,000 of those sites have been shut down because of us. We want to be an independent third-party association so that when people have the ASACP logo on their site, it is clear these sites do not promote or have anything to do with child pornography.
Why would owners of adult porn sites care about child porn?
Because adult sites are being linked to it by the government and the media, and the owners want the public to know they are legitimate businesspeople who are doing their business within the letter of the law.
Are people who produce adult pornography misunderstood?
I think so, yeah. These are technology people, they're business people, they're your next-door neighbors, they're married, they have kids, they pay taxes, they go to church.
Does your organization get respect from law enforcement?
People would be surprised to hear that people in the adult industry are working with the FBI. But then again, where is the best place to get information on things going on in the adult industry than from people who are in that industry? We have been able to give the police information two or three weeks sooner than they would get it from their other sources. If they get it sooner, they have a better chance of finding the people.
Do you believe that people buying porn on the Internet will actually be swayed by your organization's "seal of approval," which would deem adult, pornographic Web sites to be child-porn free?
We're hoping. People write to us all the time saying, "What happens if I go and look at adult content and find out they're using child porn? I don't want to see that, first of all, and second of all, can I be arrested?" This is a way they can be assured that the content they're looking at is adult-only, so they don't put themselves in that kind of jeopardy.
You spend a lot of your time watching child porn. Can you describe that?
It is horrible. When I first started, I wondered how I'd know if it was actually child porn or not. How can I tell when I'm watching a dirty video who is 16 and who is 18? But the first time you see real child pornography--I was in tears. I was like, "Oh my God, how can somebody do that to a baby?" When you see it at that age, you know it. I still get teary. Did I ever expect to be a 54-year-old woman looking at this material and making these decisions? No.
Did you have any idea how much child porn was out there?
No. All I knew about was what was in the news, and I get spam just like everybody else does. Even people [in the adult site business] have not seen half the stuff I've seen because they don't even know it exists. They're not involved in that market, they're not into it, and if people didn't send it to us, we wouldn't know because we don't go look for it.
Has the child porn problem grown since of the advent of the Internet?
No, there's always been a market for it. You have some very sick people out there. Take a look at what happened with the Catholic Church. Pedophiles are going to find this type of information. I don't think that because of the Internet more is being produced. It's always been produced, but maybe the people who are producing it are having an easier way to get to the people who want that kind of gross, disgusting, vile stuff.