Five years ago, in Safe House, Andrew Vachss wrote about on-line molestation broadcast in real time. Now, in November of 2003, London's Observer has reported on a group committing that very crime. Vachss isn't psychic, and this isn't some new phenomenon. He lives closer to ground, where these crimes are committed.
Here's the excerpt from Safe House [from pp. 121-123]:
"Pretty much what it sounds like," she said, combing both hands through her thick mane of dark hair as a river breeze came up. "He does contract jobs, but he works for cash, not on the books."
"I don't think so. He's an information guy, not hands-on. What he is, I think, is kind of a bounty hunter. A bounty spotter, if there's any such thing. He doesn't make collars, he doesn't do wet stuff. He works the edges, tracking. And he manipulates situations. There's no holds on him—he doesn't have to play by the rules."
"Could he get favors done?"
"From the feds? Probably. At least he could from certain agents he's bird-dogging for."
"And he doesn't play for headlines?"
"I remember one thing he said to me. 'I never take credit. Only cash.' I think that about sums him up."
"You had a beef with him?"
"Not at all. He was very polite, very respectful. Said he knew about a pedophile ring. A new twist—on-line molestation in real time."
"One of the freaks would get the little girl—they only used girls in this one—in his studio. Then he'd set up the cameras, notify the rest of them and flash her image over their modems. They could tell him what they wanted him to do to the little girl, and they could all watch as he did it."
"And Pryce knew this how?"
"He didn't say. But I got the impression that he had reached one of the freaks. Had him in his pocket."
"Was he trying to make a deal, have this one guy roll over on the rest in exchange for a walk-away?"
"No. He doesn't work for defense attorneys. It wasn't anything like that. As near as I could tell, he was willing to let his own guy go down with the rest."
"So what was the problem?"
"He wanted to get paid. Not a favor, cash."
"How much did he want?"
"He didn't say exactly. Six figures, anyway."
"And you wouldn't go for it?"
"No. I couldn't. We don't have a budget for things like that. Nobody posts a reward until there's a victim, right?"
"Yeah. And nobody knew—?"
"Nobody knew anything. This was the first I'd heard of it. I tried to put some pressure on him. Told him, if he didn't turn over the information, not only was that one little girl going to continue to be gang-raped over the Internet, there had to be others too. He said that should make it worth more. I tried to spook him about 'withholding information' and he just laughed. I never saw him again."
"So it just went on?"
"Actually, it didn't. A week later there was a big bust. Federal. The FBI vamped on the whole operation, took it down in one fell swoop. A beautiful case: even the first one to roll got major time."
"You think Pryce sold it to the Gee?"
"There's no way to know. I asked a friend over there how they got the case, and he just said it started with a CI, that was all he knew."
"But he didn't mean Pryce was the Confidential Informant?"
"No. But he could have been running the CI, whoever he was. Or it all could have been bogus, a setup to justify the search warrant."
"You got anything else?" I asked her.
"No, that's it. But if I hear anything, I'll call you."
"Your turn," she said, giving me another deadly smile.
© 1998 Andrew Vachss.
And here, five years later, is the article from The Observer:
Child Abuse Shown Live on Internet
By Amelia Hill
Originally published in The Observer, November 9, 2003
Children are being sexually abused to order by paedophiles who charge other members of their virtual sex-rings a fee to watch over the internet as it takes place.
Abusers promise other members of their secret online societies that they will use a live webcam to film a particular child on a specified day, provided enough money has been deposited in their bank account beforehand.
Police have known for some time that real-time sexual abuse of children takes place over the internet and that images of abuse are bartered between paedophiles who are keen to increase their collections.
But this is the first time that real-time images of internet abuse have been sold for cash, raising concerns that criminal entrepreneurs have moved into the world of online child abuse.
In a further twist, paedophiles watching the abuse take place are increasingly being allowed by the abuser to direct what is done to the child. There are even cases of the abuser and the paedophile voyeur working together to groom the child before the abuse begins.
'This is an online version of what has been happening for years,' said Tink Palmer, a specialist in child abuse on the internet for Barnardos, who has identified the new tactic by paedophiles. 'Children have long been sold by paedophiles to other abusers in their ring. This is the obvious next step.
'In these paedophile societies, having access to a child makes you enormously important and it seems abusers have realised they can use that status to profit financially,' she said.
Palmer has come across situations where paedophiles direct the abuse over the web cam as it takes place. 'The final step is that the paedophile forms a relationship with the child through the camcorder, so they can encourage them to do certain things,' she said.
'It's the perfect scenario for paedophiles: not only can they orchestrate situations that make it look like the child is proactively taking part but, because the child is left believing they were responsible for the situation, they will never tell anyone what took place.'
Peter Robbins, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, has established arrangements with Visa and Mastercard to help to track paedophiles using their credit cards to purchase images over the net.
'It was inevitable that this form of pay-per-view abuse would develop given the possibilities of the internet,' he said.
'We already have live, pay-per-view, adult pornography webcams where you can pay a woman to carry out specific requests; this is the paedophiles' version.'
So far, police have failed to break the encryption codes created by online paedophile societies to block access into the group in time to prevent the abuse taking place and before the closure of bank accounts that could lead them to the abusers.
Jackie Bennett, from the National Crime Squad's Paedophile Online Investigation Team, admitted that the police were finding it difficult to keep up with the new ways paedophiles were finding to exploit the internet.
A spokeswoman for Greater Manchester Police also confirmed that they were familiar with such cases, but added: 'We can't talk about this without compromising cases we're working with.'
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003