John’s mother was a member of the local Day Lily Club, and spent much of her free time in her garden, where she had seven hundred and fifty varieties of lilies, whose growth she documented in scrapbooks.

Warm and self-deprecating, she said that she identified with John’s tendency to become compulsively immersed in his hobbies.

By twelfth grade, he noticed that the girls at school whom he found most attractive were freshmen.

” Indy-Girl said that because of the “legality of it” she had never acted on her fantasies. She was a bisexual college sophomore, she said, and had learned about sex at an early age. John, a thirty-one-year-old soldier stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, had been using the Internet for less than a year. things will work out.” She added, “It’s not like she’s gonna die if you don’t.”They decided to meet at a park in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where they could have a picnic or go boating on the lake.

He began downloading child pornography after watching a television special about how Internet child porn had become epidemic. In the five months since he’d seen the show, he had downloaded more than two thousand images from child-pornography news groups. Two weeks after their first conversation, John drove three hours to the appointed meeting spot. The Military Police Investigations unit, working with the F. I., had recruited two young officers to play the roles of the two sisters.

He had been commended for having a memory for technical details, but he was also nervous, nerdy, and eager to please. John waived his right to a lawyer, hoping to end the humiliation quickly. report summarizing the interview, “Everything that he said on the Internet was John pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and to using the Internet to persuade a minor to have sex, and was sentenced to fifty-three months in federal prison—a relatively light sentence by today’s standards.

At all stages of his life, he had been afflicted with the sense that he was just a “wannabe.”Unlike other people John met online, Indy-Girl seemed to like him. (His mother, for the sake of John’s two younger brothers, has asked that I not use the family’s last name.) In an interview with the agents, John confessed that he frequently downloaded child pornography, storing it on his hard drive in a folder labelled “2Young.” He was sexually attracted to the girls in the photographs, he admitted, but he had never had sexual contact with anyone below the age of eighteen. In the past fifteen years, sentences for possession or distribution of child pornography—a federal crime, since images cross state lines—have increased in length by more than five hundred per cent.

“If anything, girls wanted me to be their friend—never their boyfriend,” he said.

When male classmates boasted about their sexual escapades, John made up his own.

After a week of conversations, she asked John if he was “r/l” (real life) about the meeting, and when he said that he was she sent him a soft-focus digital image of a girl who she said was her fourteen-year-old sister. “She still has some of her baby fat, she’s kinda embarrassed.” Undeterred, John described how the three of them would enjoy one another’s company: they could have sex in the shower or in a field of flowers. He insisted that he had invented his sexual exploits to impress Indy-Girl. The average sentence is now a hundred and nineteen months, which is about the same as the average punishment for a physical sex crime.

He encouraged Indy-Girl to “talk dirty” and “let your imagination go wild,” but she cut him off, explaining, “I’m not the cyber type.”She preferred to discuss the logistics of their meeting, a subject that John approached hesitantly. Child pornography didn’t become a priority for federal law enforcement until the mid-nineties, when the Internet, offering a fun-house reflection of the spectrum of human sexuality, exposed a previously invisible population of pedophiles.

a Saturday night in the summer of 1998, an undercover officer logged in to a child-pornography chat room using the screen name Indy-Girl.

Within minutes, a user named John introduced himself and asked her, “Are you into real life or just fantasy?

He paid for the majority of his sexual encounters; he lost his virginity at the age of nineteen to a prostitute at a twenty-four-hour health spa, he said.