The research said producers, distributors and users of child pornography were becoming increasingly sophisticated.
The number of garda investigations into child pornography has dropped from a height of 104 in 2002, to 48 in 2003, and 25 in 2004, the study said.
“As computer use becomes more widespread, the number of broadband connections to the Internet increases, and users become more sophisticated at covering their tracks, it is likely that this type of criminal activity will become more prevalent and more difficult to eradicate,” said the report.
Professor Ian O’Donnell, who led the research, said more and more images of child pornography were being circulated all the time.
“With digital photography and digital recording the stock of images is constantly being increased,” he said. “The technology is making it easier to produce and distribute, the price of equipment has come down and computer power, even for domestic machines, has increased dramatically.”
He said users were also using better encryption techniques to hide the images.
“In the Operation Amethyst cases in 2002, individuals used their own credit cards to purchase material from an organisation in the US. I think it’s highly unlikely anyone would take that kind of a risk today.
“There’s also ways of encrypting files now. If people have images they can conceal it on their PC in a way that makes it extremely difficult for any investigator to find.”
He said the problem was a global issue that was very hard to deal with nationally.
The research, Child pornography and the Criminal Justice System, was written by Prof O’Donnell and Claire Milner of UCD’s Institute of Technology and commissioned by the Department of Justice.
It examined 138 of the 204 cases recorded by the gardaí between 2000 and 2004. A crime was detected in 120 cases and 106 files were sent to the DPP.
Almost half of the suspects were married or cohabiting and 39% had children.
80% had no previous conviction.
Prof O’Donnell said only 5% had a conviction for a sexual offence.
The research examined 153 cases dealt with by the DPP. Some 84% involved possession of child pornography, with 13% involving distribution of production.
A prosecution was taken in 98 cases, with 57 resulting in a conviction.
Prof O’Donnell said he was “very struck” by the detailed and discriminating consideration given by judges to the cases, reflected in the range of sentences — from probation to imprisonment — handed down for possession.
Imprisonment was the only sentence handed down for production or distribution, he said.