Dissuading internet users from viewing adult-minor sex images: the results of a randomized controlled experiment

A/Prof. Jeremy Prichard1, Dr Caroline Spiranovic1, Prof  Paul Watters2, Prof Richard Wortley3, A/Prof Tony Krone4
1Law Faculty, University Of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia, 2La Trobe University , Melbourne, Australia, 3University College London , London, UK, 4University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia

The task of tackling the market in child exploitation material (CEM) is almost entirely undertaken by law enforcement agencies (LEA). Automated online warning messages are recognised as one cost effective primary prevention method to reduce the numbers of new CEM users. But their use remains in abeyance because no clear evidence base has existed as to the effect of automated messages on users.

This presentation discusses the results of an online double-blind randomised controlled experiment. The study established a real-life male-oriented website and used commercial strategies to draw web traffic. Users who clicked on a fake advertisement for ‘barely legal porn’ (BLP) were randomly allocated to: a control group (who did not receive an automated message); or one of four experimental groups (who received messages relating to law enforcement or harm). Users’ behaviour was monitored to assess whether they attempted to access the BLP. (BLP was used as a proxy for CEM because attempting to access a fake advert for CEM could constitute an offence.)

The results showed those who received a law enforcement message were less likely than the control group to attempt to access the BLP.

The presentation will discuss what the effect of the messages might look like in a real-life scenario involving actual CEM. The implications of the findings will be considered for a variety of non-LEA agencies that could employ automated messages at the local, national and international level.


A/Prof Jeremy Prichard teaches Criminal Law as well as Sex Crimes and Criminals. He works in two interdisciplinary teams – one on child exploitation material and the other on illicit drug markets. Both teams explore novel ways to conduct empirical research to inform policy and practice.

Caroline Spiranovic is a Senior Research Fellow at the Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania and an Honorary Research Fellow, School of Population Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Western Australia. Caroline works predominantly in multi-disciplinary teams on criminology research projects focusing on public opinion, crime prevention and sex offending.

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