Italian Journal of Criminology

The official journal of the Italian Society of Criminology

by Cristiano Barbieri

This article aims at giving some hints for a reflection upon criminogenesis and criminodynamics of sexual offenses committed by the use of chat lines and chat rooms. To this end, we take as a starting point an expert witness case study, which is illustrative of some aspects of the general phenomenon.
First of all we examine the change of ethics in the so called “liquid modernity”, that’s to say in a socio-cultural context where the concepts of individual and community, of freedom and responsibility have become more and more uncertain and at least undecipherable, because of the changing in the space-time relations, also caused by the increasing use of the internet.
In this dimension, interpersonal encounter happens ever more in  places where action is favoured, while interaction is not, or it happens in meaningless spaces, apt to welcome everything and its opposite at the same time; furthermore the technological mean favours the prevailing of an immediate, instantaneous temporality, evocating the illusion of immortality. Therefore, in this liquid life the other is generally met as a simulacrum and not as an anthropologically and ontologically grounded person, who as such is and remains anyway  bearer of inalienable rights and duties, first and foremost of personal freedom.
Besides, we take into consideration not only the undeniable advantages, but also the actual risks of human communication on the internet: in fact, though it can take place even long distance in real time, involving an ever growing number of subjects, this happens without the mediation of corporeity, meant both as body-object and as body-subject. This brings about a progressive transformation in the relationship between body and identity, between individual and group, because social interaction in the virtual world is completely separated from the physicality of human body and from the sexual gender, at the point that the transmission of emotions, related to that of information, may easily become a vehicle of  aggressive charges. Eventually, we analyzed the destructive potential lying in the so called virtual identity, meant as a fragmented self, consequent upon the computer-mediated relationship, compared to the so called real identity, meant as a continuously evolving development based on identifying processes, to which the body-mediated social interaction is fundamental.  
In this perspective, we then underline the risks of losing both the sense of reality and the sense of limits, to the point of becoming sometimes no longer able to recognize the difference between the real and the phantasmatic, with dangerous consequences on the behaviour of a scarcely cohesive or completely uncohesive self .
As a matter of fact, it is in the passage from an imagined behaviour to a really acted one that  a criminogenic potentiality motivating even a sexual crime can become manifest. Not by chance, when occurring between subjects who made acquaintance and saw one another only in a chat line or in a chat room, this crime qualifies the mean of communication not only as a mean putting the victim in contact with an offender, but also as a space for ambiguity par excellence, offering a real chance to hide behind a virtual mask to those who need to deny themselves in order to be themselves, and  to deny the other, who in this way becomes victim of a violence which takes away any  freedom of choice.

Dipartimento di Medicina Legale dell’Università degli Studi di Pavia, Via Forlanini n.12, 27100, Pavia, 0382.987800- email: cristiano.barbieri(at)unipv.i

Cristiano Barbieri
Contacts: Cristiano Barbieri, Sezione di Medicina Legale e Scienze Forensi dell’Università degli Studi di Pavia, Via Forlanini n.12, 27100, Pavia – E-mail: cristiano.barbieri(at)

From: Rassegna Italiana di Criminologia n° 4/2012



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