Every parent's nightmare

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Jun 14, 1999, 3:00:00 AM6/14/99
Thursday 3 June 1999

Every parent's nightmare
ON MOST nights, Paul Edward Vose sat at a computer screen inside a small
bungalow at the back of his mother's home in Murrumbeena. When he logged
on to the Internet under the user name of Earthling, he went directly to
his own website. There he collected sexual images of young boys. Vose,
29, had developed an obsession with a young choirboy, whom he first
spotted in a Father's Day gift catalogue in 1994. Three years later,
Vose approached the boy, then 12, at a railway station and asked him
whether he had modelled for a fast-food advertisement. Vose would sit in
a park and photograph the boy at soccer training. The camera was
positioned to take shots of the boy as he came out of the change area.
Vose also attended choir practice, where he would take up a place in the
front or second pew to watch the boy. Vose then installed listening
devices inside and outside the boy's house and bugged conversations with
his nanny, parents and sister. Vose was stopped by police near the boy's
home and could not provide an explanation of why he was there. He had
been wearing gloves and black tracksuit pants under a pair of trousers.
Vose was undeterred and displayed pictures of the boy on his website
under ``Earthling´s Loveable Lads´´. He had learnt how to create
his own site after attending a computer users´ club. At one stage,
Vose hand-delivered a two-page letter to the boy´s parents in which,
desperate to get their reaction, he explained how to access his home
page. When the boy's stepfather found the site on a computer, he was
horrified by the pictures of the boy and Vose's manifesto on
paedophilia. ``I´m unapologetically dangerous to virtually anyone who
threatens me,´´ Vose proclaimed. ``No one should ever threaten
anyone they don´t know well, and since no one knows me very well, no
one should ever threaten me. Revenge is righteous.´´ The message
went on: ``Special laws to protect children are not necessary. It is not
far wrong to say I am a green-eyed monster whenever I observe very
public displays of romantic behavior amongst heterosexual people, even
on TV. I have wanted to do exactly the same sort of thing with little
boys for half my life ... ``The day I get caught having sex with a
child, I go to war with the world around me, starting with governments
and the police, and anyone else stupid enough to get in my way.´´
Vose was convicted on stalking charges rather than any offence related
to the Internet. After pleading guilty in the County Court, he was
sentenced to four years in jail, with a minimum of three years before
becoming eligible for parole. He has already spent a year in custody.
The crime of stalking carries a maximum 10-year jail term. Judging from
photos of Vose, it is hard to believe he is an evil, self-professed
paedophile - the personification of every parent's nightmare. Unemployed
and a lonely figure, Vose had few friends and his bespectacled, bookish
appearance makes him seem harmless. However, his behavior betrays a
disturbed mind. In every sense, he was a green-eyed monster. Since the
case, the legal system has reflected on how best to deal with this new
breed of cyberspace paedophiles who stalk their victims and display
their pictures on the Internet, sharing their material with other child
molesters. The Opposition spokesman on legal affairs, Rob Hulls, says it
is crucial that legislators ensure the law is kept up to date with the
latest technology. ``There are cyberstalkers out there who will use the
Net to commit all sorts of offences. At the moment, the law is two or
three steps behind the technology.´´ But the Attorney-General, Jan
Wade, says legislation, passed in January 1996, that relates to
possession of objectionable material on the Internet is adequate.
``While there may be some practical difficulties in prosecuting people
in other countries, I am satisfied that they operate effectively.´´
The Victoria Police is already investigating a number of
Internet-related crimes and, as part of an amalgamation of several
squads, will assess the extent of paedophile activity in Melbourne. The
head of the Victoria Police child exploitation squad, Detective Senior
Sergeant Chris O'Connor, says the Internet has created a new generation
of potential child molesters who can obtain ``kiddie porn´´ at the
click of a button. ``If they are downloading images and they haven´t
assaulted, they certainly will.´´ O'Connor, who has recently
co-authored a book, Rockspider, about the dangers of paedophiles, says
tough laws had virtually banned child pornography from adult bookshops
in Victoria. ``The sanctions are so great that, for an entrepreneur, the
risk wouldn´t be worth it.´´ On-line child pornography, says
O'Connor, fuels the sexual fantasies of child molesters, who use it in
an attempt to validate their criminal behavior. A computer student,
Lance Christopher Foot, 19, was recently jailed in the County Court for
six years and nine months for the digital rape of two prep students at
their primary school. The court was told that Foot had viewed child
pornography on the Internet at a TAFE college, and had fantasised about
young girls before the attack. The director of public prosecutions,
Geoff Flatman, QC, has now lodged an appeal on the ground the sentence
was manifestly inadequate. But while cybersex sites may bypass ordinary
legal boundaries and open a new frontier, O'Connor has a warning for
those who access child pornography on the Internet. ``You may think that
you are anonymous, but you are not,´´ he says. In Federal Parliament
last week, legislation aimed at censoring the Internet was passed
despite warnings from the on-line industry that it is unworkable. It
will hold Internet service providers indirectly responsible for content
on the Net. But a Monash University law lecturer, Melissa deZwart, who
specialises in computer law, says most countries have moved away from
any attempt to regulate the Internet and the Federal Government's
legislation is flawed. ``You can have someone operating material on to a
server from another country. So the issue of physical location of these
things becomes very problematic.´´ The possession of child
pornography is illegal, but websites can be shut down or moved
overnight. ``It is the global and anonymous nature of it that is such a
problem,´´ deZwart says. The national director of End Child
Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking, Bernadette McMenamin, argues
for a community body to operate a hot-line to receive complaints about
child pornography sites in Australia, with the information being passed
on to police. ``The more people report the sites, the easier it will be
to identify the victims and the abusers,´´ she says. The proposal is
in line with the findings of a UNESCO conference in Paris early this
year that recommended the creation of networks of hot-lines or
electronic watchtowers to identify the illegal sites. The conference
concluded that the problem of child abuse on the Internet could not be
overcome through censorship alone and required a coalition of police,
governments, international agencies, parents and the media. McMenamin
agrees the Internet has become the perfect medium for paedophiles.
``When you find child pornography, you don´t have to look very far to
find child abusers.´´ The Internet industry, she says, has an
important role to play in fighting child sexual exploitation. ``The only
way we are going to approach it is through a global approach. We have to
work at every level and not just say it is too hard to regulate the
Internet. We should all come together and work out a solution.´´
McMenamin says the judiciary needs to impose sentences that provide a
deterrent to other sex offenders who exploit children on the Internet.
``The judges don´t seem familiar with the seriousness of the crime.
They seem to think the offenders are just trading in dirty
pictures.´´ For every offender like Vose, police estimate there are
hundreds in the community who are never caught. In Victoria alone, there
are estimated to be about 2000 paedophiles at large - most never record
a criminal conviction. Even when they get to court, the magistrate or
judge often finds it difficult to deal with such offenders. In
sentencing Vose, Judge Graeme Crossley of the County Court seems to have
encountered several legislative hurdles in determining an appropriate
jail term. Despite strong evidence that Vose was resistant to treatment
and would constitute a ``real danger to young children´´ when he was
released, Judge Crossley said Vose could not be classified as a serious
sexual offender under Section2A of the Victorian Sentencing Act. ``A
sentencing judge,´´ said Judge Crossley, ``is entitled to regard the
protection of the community as the primary reason for sentence ... that
approach is not open to me, as a matter of law, in this case.´´ The
judge said he had to look to other areas of the legislation to impose an
appropriate sentence. ``It should not, of course ... be the function of
a sentencing judge to sentence a person for being a paedophile, a thief
or indeed anything else.´´ The psychologists who assessed Vose have
few doubts about his propensity to re-offend. A leading psychologist,
Ian Joblin, concluded that Vose was convinced his paedophile behavior
was acceptable and the period spent in jail might actually intensify his
sexual fantasies about young children. ``He is in a very difficult
situation of his own making and it does not seem like this will change
readily,´´ concluded Joblin. ``The chances of this man becoming
psychotic are quite real,´´ he said. ``The whole issue of this
man´s attraction to the victim in this case is one of self-indulgent
gratification with little or any consideration of the impact of what he
is doing to the victim of his family.´´ Another psychologist also
concluded that treatment for Vose was not a realistic option. ``Though
he (Vose) claims that he had no intention of harming or luring victims
to sexual activity, there is no reason to feel safe that he would not
offend if opportunity arose or use violence when he felt
justified.´´ The boy's stepfather is in no doubt about the effect
the green-eyed monster has had on his entire family. In a witness
statement tendered in the County Court, he described the stalking of his
stepson as the most unnerving experience as a parent. ``I feel like my
entire family is in grave danger and that our home is besieged ... This
threatening situation will emotionally scar the children, if we cannot
maintain the normality of everyday life.´´

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