Nationwide, child pornography cases increased 330 percent from 1999 to 2009, according to a recent article in the Washington Examiner.
"Before the Internet, child pornography had almost been eradicated," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride told a reporter for the paper.
More than nine million U.S. computers were identified as having shared child pornography between October 2008 and October 2009, an August report by the Justice Department says. Now, the FBI handles more than 2,500 new child pornography cases a year.
"A lot of people never would have gone into an erotic video or magazine shop and asked to see child pornography," criminal defense lawyer Mike Sprano said. "But when it's just one click away on their computer, it seems to be more tempting for people."
One way law enforcement has ramped up efforts to catch sexual predators who target children is with a 2006 Justice Department initiative called Project Safe Childhood, which has placed prosecutors who target child-exploitation offenses in each federal judicial district. The FBI also has devoted more resources to the crime, creating task forces to work with and train local authorities and by establishing its Innocent Images National Initiative to centralize evidence collection and analysis.
A sexual behavior consultant at John Hopkins University believes this trend proves that the desire to view sexual images of children is more prevalent than once thought.