One Child at a Time

One Child at a Time

By Adriana Palanca

A review of One Child At A Time by Julian Sher

Published on October 11, 2007

One Child At A Time
Julian Sher

Random House Canada
$22
paper
336pp
978-067-9313922

In many ways, the internet is to the youth of today what television was to previous generations in North America. It is the entry point to a wider world, delivering information in a neat package of images and sound. But for all their similarities, what makes the web so much more powerful than television is that while the wired world inspires the exchange of information, it also provides the means for the audience to immediately – and anonymously – share that information, whether it be through words, images, or video.

The consequences of such an accessible environment are elaborated in One Child at a Time, Julian Sher’s heart-rending look at how child abusers are using the web to feed their obsession, and how dedicated individuals are using that same technology to stem this online epidemic.

Sher, an acclaimed investigative reporter, shows how the web has helped make child abuse terrifyingly common: “Child abusers and the images they produced were around long before the advent of the internet, [but] what was once a hidden scourge restricted to the dark corners of society is now widely available using any search engine.”

This thoroughly researched and well-documented book examines – step by step, clue by clue – how the concentrated efforts of specialists, technical experts, and law officials are resulting in daring rescues of helpless victims, the seizure of millions of misbegotten dollars, and the arrest of numerous child abusers and porn merchants the world over. It also unmasks the men – and yes, women – behind this terrible crime, revealing among their ranks lawyers, teachers, doctors, and other seemingly upstanding citizens.

Considering the sensitive nature of the material, at first glance this book may not appear appealing to many readers. However, for parents and those who work with youth on a regular basis, Sher’s work may hold some important revelations about how to protect children from online predators. Rest assured that the writing style is detached in tone and entirely suitable to the subject matter. Out of respect for the victims, Sher purposefully stays away from graphic, sensationalistic language. Also, thankfully, the book does not contain photos.

When Sher focuses on the fight against online predators, readers will be riveted. The victims he introduces elicit immediate sympathy, and although their situations are horrifying, it’s difficult to stop reading until their fates have been discovered.

When Sher dips into far more complex and controversial topics – such as the effectiveness of rehabilitation for child abusers or the “causes” of paedophilia – the book becomes more frustrating. These are far too complex to be treated in a few paragraphs, and Sher does not have the space here to treat them with the detail and analysis they require. If nothing else, his comments can be an impetus for further research.

Overall, One Child at a Time offers inspiring stories of the triumph of good over evil, but also serves to wake up parents who may still innocently believe that their children are safe from online predators. The book ends with a series of insightful and thought-provoking conclusions that once again prove Sher’s ability to grasp complex issues with absolute clarity. Unlike the many who would deal with this situation by sticking their heads in the sand, Sher promotes a more vigilant approach for every member of society. As he writes, “We need better surveillance and awareness by parents and schools, but we also need more empowered and wary young people who know the limits and risks of life on the web.” mRb

Adriana Palanca is a Montreal writer and translator.

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