The pedophile next door

Maggie Gallagher
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Posted: Aug 22, 2006 12:01 PM

I don't know whether John Mark Karr killed JonBenet Ramsey. Time (and DNA evidence) will likely tell. I do know that when it comes to pursuing his grotesque fantasies, Karr is typical -- that is, for a pedophile.

Karr sought access to young girls through marriage, for example: While becoming a stepfather is a more typical strategy for gaining access to children, Karr actually married two child-brides in quick succession. He also sought employment in target-rich areas: The New York Post reports he told the Alabama baby sitter who took care of his own three kids that he wanted to open a day-care center (just a few years before he was arrested on child porn charges). In Alabama, California and Thailand, he worked as a teacher.

Like other pedophiles, Karr is extremely skilled at rationalizing his abnormal interest in children: "Sometimes little girls are closer to me than with their parents or any other person in their lives," wrote Karr in e-mail messages to a journalism professor.

Just how typical a pedophile Karr is becomes clear after a recent four-month investigation by The New York Times of the pedophile communities now in cyberspace. These are the pedophiles next door, remarkably similar to John Mark Karr with one chilling exception: They are still at large among us, developing new strategies to get their hands on our children.

"The community's online infrastructure is surprisingly elaborate" The New York Times reports: Internet radio stations, a charity to raise money to send Eastern European children to a camp where pedophiles would have access, podcasts, an online jewelry company marketing pendants symbolizing various pedophiles' orientations, downloadable booklets encouraging adult-child sex with instructions for distribution. In June, Internet providers announced plans to use new technologies to identify child pornographers. "Within hours of the announcement," reports the Times, "(pedophile) discussion rooms were filled with advice on how to continue swapping illegal images while avoiding detection."

Among the pedophiles observed by the reporters: a disc jockey at parties ("a high concentration of gorgeous" children); a pediatric nurse ("lots of looking but no touching"); a piano teacher ("I could tell you stories that would make you ... well ... I'll be good"); an employee at a water theme park ("bathing suits upon bathing suits!!!!!"); and a pediatrician specializing in gynecology ("No need to add anything more, I feel").

"The most frequent job mentioned, however," according to the Times, "was schoolteacher."

That and another incident reported reinforce new concerns: On a site for pedophiles attracted to boys, "Vespucci" asked how a single man could become a foster parent. "I highly recommend you date women for several years and keep at least a couple of those relationships going for at least a couple of months. Around the women, make a point of being nice to children," another pedophile advised.

Congressional hearings on the problem to date have focused on the Internet as the problem. And it is true that the Internet has allowed pedophiles to create virtual communities in which they justify to each other their behavior. "My (10-year-old) daughter and I have a healthy, close relationship," a person with the screen name Sonali posted. "We have been in a 'consensual sexual relationship' almost two months now ... I am so happy to find this site. I thought having a sexual attraction to my daughter was bad. I now do not feel guilty or conflicted."

Now that pedophiles are organizing online to evade detection, I want to know: What kind of screening exists for teachers, day-care workers and other professionals who have positions of trusted authority with children? What evidence do we have that children in adoption or foster care are being protected from the pedophiles now targeting them?

Concerns with "family privacy" in foster care and adoption cannot be turned into an excuse for evading the question: How well are we protecting the most vulnerable children from the pedophiles next door?