Though police may work hard to catch child pornographers, they can only do so much — a tip from the public could lead to the arrest of a predator sooner than police might have caught him otherwise.

So what are the telltale signs of a child pornography offender? Metro asked Michael Seto, director of forensic rehabilitation research at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. Seto is an expert on pedophilia and child pornography, and offered some tips on how offenders are likely to give themselves away.

Child pornography offenders are often pedophiles or hebephiles — adults attracted to prepubescent children or pubescent children.

“It is not true that all child pornography offenders are pedophiles or hebephiles, but many are,” Seto said. “The legal definition of child pornography in Canada includes images of teens under age 18, but someone with only images of teens would be unlikely to be charged and convicted because it is often difficult to determine ages.”

Someone with images of a 17-year-old would be breaking the law, but would not necessarily be considered a hebephile, while someone with images of a 13-year-old would. People charged with possession of child pornography “almost always” have some images of pre-pubescent or pubescent children, Seto said.

Offenders are often socially isolated, spend long stretches of time online and are secretive about their online activities.

“Several studies have suggested that child pornography offenders become increasingly involved online, sometimes spending hours every day searching for more content, as well as spending time on related sites” like youth-oriented forums or chat rooms, Seto said.

This doesn’t mean every heavy Internet user is a suspect — most aren’t. But if someone spends an increasing amount of time online while becoming more isolated from friends and family, particularly if they avoid answering questions about their online activity, it could be cause for concern, Seto said.

Child pornographers are often caught because they use a shared computer.

“A common mistake made by child-pornography offenders who are identified by police is using a computer that someone else has access to,” Seto said, such as a home computer where a family member discovers the activity or using a work computer, Seto said.

Offenders caught this way are often not aware of privacy and security options when searching online, and sometimes end up communicating with undercover police officers to trade child pornography, he said.

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