The real answer lies in more police resources around the world focused on the exploitation of children. In the UK the number of child sex abuse cases being sent for prosecution has dropped by nearly a third over the past two years, despite the number of reports going up. We also need a more informed understanding of the limits of popular search engines such as Google. Because what will happen now is that more and more of the really hardcore stuff will drift downwards into the “dark web” where the predators feel safe.
One piece of recent good news is that the dark web is having light thrown on to it. A site for exchanging drugs — Silk Road, which dealers and users believed was completely secure — has recently been closed down.
However, the bigger and better answer is to fight back in the real world against our exploitative and deeply sexist sexual culture. The Internet, as all women commentators know, is rancid with idiot sexism and braying misogyny. Rather than calling for censorship, by far the best answer is more publicity — the identification and outing of the cowardly trolls, so we know their names, faces and what they do. Why does this matter? Because they would turn out, like almost all men, to live among mothers, sisters, daughters, and they would not enjoy owning up to their behavior any more than your average Co-op Bank boss enjoys owning up to his crystal meth use.
Here is the larger point. The Internet is not a virtual or abstract construction, even if it sometimes feels that way. It is us, contemporary humanity. The Internet’s failings — its hyper-sexualization, its propensity to hate, its ranting — are our failings. The only way to confront our failings is face to face, in the real world, having honest arguments and disagreements about the acceptable limits of human behavior.
Anonymity is the great enemy because it allows people to hide from their better selves. If we want to put the squeeze on pedophilia, we have to fund the social workers who go into vulnerable families. These are things that happen in the real world, to real people; they have little to do with “images.”
To confront the sexism of the Internet world, we have to identify and talk to real men, born of women, and living among women, rather than respond to someone who calls themselves “Hairy Weetabix 99” or whatever. When we start to do that, we can get back, perhaps, to that wide and generous dream of a world wide web of information and the serious exchange of views.