The Department of Internal Affairs

Te Tari Taiwhenua | Department of Internal Affairs

Building a safe, prosperous and respected nation


Success against new method of trading child sex abuse images

18 January 2005
The last year has seen major progress in combating a new way of using the Internet to distribute and collect pictures and movies of children being sexually abused, and this year there will be more action against it.

The Director of the Department of Internal Affair’s Gaming and Censorship Regulation Group, Keith Manch, said that internationally offenders have been increasingly using what are called “peer-to-peer applications” because they falsely believed they could avoid being detected.

“They can and are being detected,” Mr Manch said.

“In 2003 we set an important precedent. We showed that New Zealand censorship law does cover this new technology and, for the first time, a New Zealander was convicted for using it to distribute child sex abuse images. That year, two out of 26 convictions involved the use of peer-to-peer applications.

“Last year the number of convictions rose to eight out of 24.

“In the last few months 19 of the 25 new cases we referred to Crown Law for prosecution involved peer-to-peer applications. In addition, we are investigating more peer-to-peer cases.

“Offenders will not get a break. If they continue to distribute or collect child sex abuse images, using whatever technology, then they will eventually be caught.”

What are “peer-to-peer applications”?

Peer-to-peer applications allow a person to set up their computer to share selected files. A person gets the software and then chooses which files they want to share. Other people who have the same software can search for those sorts of files and, when they find them, they can download the files to their own computer.

The Department’s position is that if a person sets up a computer to share files that are child sex abuse images, then they are responsible for the trading that eventually occurs from that computer.


Before the advent of the Internet it was more difficult for offenders to collect and distribute child sex abuse images. Offenders had to find each other and they had to try to smuggle printed photographs, magazines and videotapes or film.

Today, offenders can sit at their computers and search the world for each other and can easily share electronic files. They have misused bulletin boards, websites, Internet relay chat channels and now peer-to-peer applications.

In 1996, the Department set up its specialist Censorship Compliance Unit.

Until 2002, the Department’s cases resulted in, on average, 16-17 convictions a year. Of those, only five in total resulted in jail terms. In 2003 there were 26 convictions with eight offenders being jailed. In 2004 there were 24 convictions with seven jail terms imposed.

Mr Manch said that the increase in the number of jail terms is probably Courts’ response to increasingly extreme images and to public disgust as understanding of the true nature of this offending spreads.

“While the statistics we have do not show that more New Zealanders are offending, the evidence we gather shows a tragic change in the images.

“The victims are becoming younger and the levels of violence and the kinds of abuse inflicted are becoming worse.”

Victims and consequences

The images are of real children and are an appalling record of what has been done to them. No one seeing the images could have mistaken them for legal, restricted, adult pornography.

Offenders encourage more abuse by demanding more images and more extreme images, and by reinforcing the false view that sex with children is acceptable.

There have been cases where offenders have tried to “groom” children with pictures and movies. They were saying, “what I want to do to you is okay, look here are pictures”.

The Department has found offenders sharing information about how to meet children. In some cases offenders who had access to children offered those children for abuse.

While very few of the images found over the years were of New Zealand children, research into offenders in New Zealand and overseas has repeatedly shown that, statistically, there is a correlation between offenders’ who collect and distribute child sex abuse images and other offending against children.

“Possessing child sex abuse images is a warning about an offenders’ sexual attitudes to children,” Mr Manch said.

“Our actions are not about pictures on a computer. They are part of New Zealand’s commitment to help prevent the abuse of children.”

The Government has introduced to Parliament proposed amendments to the Films Videos and Publications Classification Act that would increase the maximum penalty for distributing child sex abuse images to up to 10 years jail and that for possession to up to two years jail. The amendment bill is before the Government Administration Select Committee.

Media contact

Keith Manch
Director Gaming and Censorship Regulation Phone 04 495 9449, Cellular 027 445 6420

Vince Cholewa
Communications Advisor Phone 04 495 9350, Cellular 027 272 4270