The Department of Internal Affairs

Te Tari Taiwhenua | Department of Internal Affairs

Building a safe, prosperous and respected nation


More convicted and jailed for child porn in 2003


2003 saw more New Zealanders convicted and jailed for child pornography offending than in any previous year, and courts made important precedent-setting decisions.

Department of Internal Affairs’ statistics released today showed its investigations resulted in 26 child pornography convictions in 2003. One case involved the sale of videos, while the other 25 involved trading or collecting images and movies from the Internet. Courts imposed jail terms in eight cases. The Department had, and continues to have, between 20 and 25 cases before the courts at any one time.

This compares to a total of five jail terms in the entire previous six years and, on average 16 or 17 convictions a year in those years.

The Department established its Censorship Compliance Unit in 1996.

The General Manager of the Department’s Gaming and Censorship Regulation Group, Keith Manch, said there is no evidence to show that more New Zealanders are trading and collecting Internet child pornography.

“On the other hand, we know we are getting better at catching offenders,” Mr Manch said.

“The Department set up a specialist unit seven years ago and its seven Inspectors have developed knowledge and skill on par with any organisation in the world. As a result we are catching more New Zealanders, but worryingly we are now finding re-offenders and increasingly extreme images, the worst involving babies.

“Courts are imposing more jail terms, probably in response to public disgust as understanding of the true nature of child pornography spreads.

“Child pornography is made by adults having sex with children, forcing them to perform sex acts, and violently assaulting them.

“Images, movies and soundtracks of this abuse are collected and traded by people who get gratification from it. Child pornography users encourage more abuse by creating a ‘market’ and demanding more images and more extreme images.

“The images also reinforce the views held by some that sex with children is acceptable, and they have often been used by paedophiles to ‘groom’ victims.”

The Government has responded by introducing to Parliament proposals to increase the maximum penalty for trading child pornography to up to 10 years jail and that for possession to up to two years jail.

Precedents cases: possession and “peer-to-peer”

Courts have an important role to play in developing the law as use of the Internet challenges legal arguments and definitions developed over many years. In 2003, convictions helped define “possession” of electronic documents and showed that using “peer-to-peer” software can be trading.

In one case an offender admitted that he used a school computer for 12 to 18 months to deliberately join child pornography news groups, knowingly download child pornography, and minimise and maximise child pornography on his screen all day. He argued, unsuccessfully, that as he did not save the images he did not have possession of them.

The court’s decision removed one possible defence. Importantly, it applies to deliberate actions and is not about unwanted “pop-ups” or unsolicited e-mails.

For the first time, two people who used what is known as “peer-to-peer” or “P2P” software were convicted for trading child pornography. These were two separate cases.

Such software allows users to set up a computer to automatically share selected files. A person does not then have to be at their computer when it shares the files. After they have chosen which files they want to share, they can leave their computer. It will then automatically share those files when another computer searching for those sorts of files contacts it.

The Department’s view is that if a user sets up a computer to automatically share child pornography files, then they are responsible for the trading that eventually occurs even if it happens when they are not sitting at their computer. This view is yet to be fully tested in court, as both defendants pleaded guilty.

Interagency co-operation

“The only way to successfully combat Internet child pornography is to attack it from as many different directions as possible,” Mr Manch said.

“Almost every day of the year we are in contact with overseas law enforcement agencies and Interpol, and we are frequently providing intelligence reports to them.

“We also work closely with New Zealand government and non-government agencies, particularly the Police, Customs, the Internet Safety Group, ECPAT and Stop Demand.

“Each organisation works in a different field and they have different skills. Such
co-operation is a key advantage in New Zealand because our aims overlap – we are all working to help protect children from abuse.

ECPAT and Stop Demand are organisations working to prevent child prostitution, child pornography and child trafficking. Their New Zealand spokesperson, Denise Ritchie, said that child pornography is a major contributor to the international child sex abuse.

“We are pleased that courts are imposing more custodial sentences to reflect the gravity of the crimes,” Ms Ritchie said. “The Government’s plan to increase penalties is also a positive step that will allow judges to impose longer jail terms as well as more jail terms.”

The Director of the Internet Safety Group (ISG), Liz Butterfield, said that three things have to change to support New Zealand’s efforts against Internet child pornography:

  • penalties need to be tougher
  • all offenders convicted should, in addition to a penalty, have mandatory assessment by professional counsellors or psychologists experienced in dealing with sex offenders
  • there needs to be more public education.

Ms Butterfield said that the ISG posted material on its website about getting help that is based in part on feedback from offenders currently in treatment.

“We are getting many people visiting that page, “ Ms Butterfield said, “and we know that some are taking the next step and getting help so they can stop their offending.”

Media contacts, Department of Internal Affairs:
Keith Manch
General Manager Gaming and Censorship Regulation Phone 04 495 9449, Cellular 027 445 6420

Vincent Cholewa
Communications Advisor Phone 04 495 9350, Cellular 025 272 4270

Media contact, Internet Safety Group:
Liz Butterfield
Director Phone 09 362 0971, Cellular 021 725 864

Media contact, ECPAT and Stop Demand:
Denise Ritchie Cellular 027 273 7654