The AOL List: Criminal Record

David Cassel (
Sat, 25 Jan 1997 23:05:46 -0800 (PST)

			C r i m i n a l   R e c o r d


In 1994, three teenaged boys were paid to have sex with each other and a
Florida man, who then sold videotapes in AOL's chat rooms. 

Thursday the mother of one of the eleven-year-old boys sued AOL, alleging
that they knew of the man's activities, but failed to stop him.  "I took
his statement out at the jail a month and a half ago," her attorney told
the AOL List.  "He told me he went on AOL and then the chat rooms, both
member rooms and public rooms, and openly discussed the content of the
photographs--and arranged for the sales of his videotapes and photographs
in chat rooms."  Several people sent complaints to Steve Case, cc-ing the
Florida schoolteacher in an effort to discourage his business.  Yet the
account remained open. "He was discussing child pornography, and he would
see a TOS advisor come in the room, and hang out in the room.  And then
disappear," the attorney said.  "And not one warning was ever posted."  At
worst, the room name would be removed from the public list of room
names--though some even remained on the list for hours. 

"When AOL closes one of the particularly egregious rooms, they often
suggest that the participants re-create the room as a 'private room'," 
Barry Crimmins told Congress in 1995.  The children's rights activist
testified about a six-month investigation in 1994, in which he forwarded
hundreds of illegal images sent by AOL members to federal authorities
involved in Operation: Innocent Images. "The profit must be
removed from 'looking the other way,'" he testified.  "If AOL put a
fraction of the effort into dealing with this problem that they put into
spin doctoring their culpability, things would improve rapidly."  He told
TOS about one user who distributed so much child pornography it took eight
hours to download.  "Ten weeks later this criminal was still on-line and
actively exchanging child pornography in AOL's member rooms."

I contacted Crimmins Saturday, and asked him if the Guides ever saw the
selling of child pornography.  "All the time," he answered.  "Not mail
sales, but obvious trading of child pornography.  People discussing the
age of the children and their 'reviews' of the pictures they had just
received..."  How responsive was AOL?  "The most they ever did was close
the room.  Sometimes hours after I had complained to TOS about it." 

The Florida attorney says as much.  "The names of the rooms alone would
tell them what was going on," he commented Wednesday.  "The traders of
child pornography laughed at the room closings," Crimmins commented.
"They'd announce publicly their next locale.  It was a joke to them."

That community encouraged the schoolteacher.  He told the attorney he'd
had no interest in child pornography prior to joining America Online.  "He
got the disk in the mail like everyone else did, went online, went into
the People Connection, was checking out some of the rooms, and, as weird
as it sounds, next thing he knows he's taking pictures of kids engaged in
sex with kids, selling his videotapes and photographs."  Crimmins blames
AOL.  "Some of those subscribers were bound to reason, 'A lot of other
people are doing it, why shouldn't I?'" 

Many users were aware of it.  In the last paragraph of the documentation
for AOHell, it's author writes that he created the program because "I'm
sick of all the God damn pedophiles."  He had spent some time on AOL, and
"Every other Member room is named something like 'Daddy's girl', 'young
boy pix'...  I even saw a room named 'Boy4Man2Rape'.  One day I decided I
had enough."  AOL's Terms of Service seemed to be selectively enforced. 
"AOL constantly closed the 'Hackers' Member room, but refuses to do
anything about all the pedophilia rooms," the document continues.  "I once
IMed TOSAdvisor and asked him why he closes the Hacker room, but does not
close the kiddie porn rooms.  He did not reply, instead he cancelled my
More concern came from a Chicago woman who spent her last night on the
service in 1994 alerting members to AOL's problems, wilding chat room
after chat room until her account was cancelled.  "AOL turns a blind eye
to pornographic GIF-trading (esp. of children)," she said in one, "because
it brings them money."  ( 

Steve Case claimed it was a staffing issue.  "We simply cannot keep up
with the sheer volume of rooms created," he wrote in a 1995 letter to
members, "and as a result, from time to time rooms that violate TOS remain
open for some period of time."  But this more or less confirms the Florida
attorney's case.  "Where was AOL during this period of time," asks
Crimmins.  "Busy cashing the checks signed over to them by hundreds of
customers like the Florida schoolteacher."  According to the statement he
gave the attorney, the schoolteacher's AOL bills exceeded $1,000 dollars a

Last summer one subscriber re-evaluated the situation, identifying
themself only as a gay 13-year-old in AOL's chat room.  "I got flooded
with e-mail messages with images of boys having sex with adult men," they
complained.  "The text of the messages said something like 'Would you like
to try this?'"  It's a good thing they weren't really thirteen. 
"Throughout the night, I met about 20 to 30 people who were clearly
interested in having a face-to-face meeting with 'me' for sex." 

The Florida attorney visited AOL himself two months ago--and found a
publicly-listed room named "Teen Pix", where he was offered child
pornography.  In December the AOL List found rooms named "tradeteenpics"
and "petitebarelylegalfem" -- both filled to capacity.  And just weeks ago
one user noted that, while searching AOL's member directory for an incest
survivor's group, they found 137 profiles containing the word
"incest"--80% using it in an offensive context.  The problem was
worsening.  "The same search done on December 26 produced 91 hits." 

"Why are these people still around AOL?" asks Crimmins.  "Certainly not
because the corporation has zero tolerance to child pornography and child
sexual abuse." 

The Florida attorney predicts that AOL will file motions to get the case
dismissed--or offer a large sum of money to buy his silence. 

  David Cassel
  More Information -,1012,563,00.html

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