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Statistics show a sharp rise in the number of sexual predators who prowl the Internet looking for vulnerable children, then make arrangements to meet the child for sex (Andrews 2000a).

The FBI calls these criminals “travelers.” The numbers are hard to document but travelers are clearly part of the Internet-era crime wave.

According to a CBS News report, the FBI alone opens up six new traveler investigations every week (Andrews, 2000b).

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It is unclear from the discussion that whether users are describing fictional stories, sexual fantasies, and stories about past activities, or plans for the future (Lanning 1998a).

Given the lack of restrictions in cyberspace and its sexual subculture, predators have a new medium to not only pursue potential contacts with children, but also unite and unionize with fellow users in a way that allows them to validate and normalize their sexual proclivities (Lanning 1998b).

Psychologists have begun to question how the anonymous availability of child-oriented sexual material not only creates an ideal breeding ground for pedophiles but also how this opens up a Pandora’s Box for unsuspecting users (Farella 2002).

A disturbing number of recent traveler cases involve men who are first-time offenders with no criminal history of sexual activity towards minors.

Some high profile cases include Patrick Naughton, a top executive at Infoseek/Go.com, Terry Spontarelli, a Los Alamos research chemist, and George De Bier, a former Belgian diplomat (Andrews, 2000b).

Their profiles were similar, that of men who held upper-income jobs, and otherwise law-abiding citizens, arrested for traveling to meet undercover agent posing as a minor on the Internet.Chat rooms exist in cyberspace with names such as “Daddy4daughter,” “Men for Barely Legal Girls,” and “Family Fun.” While these are branded as “fantasy only” chat rooms and require participants to be over the age of eighteen, it is difficult to decipher what is fact and what is fantasy, based upon the chat dialogues in such pedophilic virtual communities (Trebilcock 1997).This paper examines the emergent phenomenon of virtual sex offending and based upon a study of 22 forensic interviews, outlines a framework for understanding this type of sex offender from a clinical perspective.Specifically, this paper examines the role of online sex addiction in the development of virtual sex offending and outlines five stages from inception to incarceration that the virtual sex offender follows.More importantly, this paper differentiates patterns of online behavior of virtual sex offenders that suggest they are fantasy users who dabble in pedophilic themes compared to classic sex offenders who seek out children for sexual gratification.The results will assist law enforcement agencies and Cyber-Crime units in the development of more accurate indicators for pedophile profiling online and facilitate a greater understanding among the psychiatric community of Internet-enabled pathology and its role in criminal conduct.

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