The Dark World of Child Porn
by Tech. Sgt Dale Yates
90th Space Wing Public Affairs
2/2/2007 - F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- Investigators were on the hunt for one little girl. They had watched the child grow up, but they didn't know her name or where she lived.
However, with each new case they found more photos of this unknown girl. She was just a little older, but the event never changed -- she was being molested by an older man. These images haunted investigators who wanted nothing more than to rescue her from a life of sexual abuse.
Then a teenager looking at pornography on a computer in his high school library stumbled upon one of these photos. Recognition came immediately. His father was molesting his sister.
Welcome to the dark world of child pornography.
Fortunately, in this real case, help arrived after the brother confronted his sister with what he found. Most victims are not as lucky, and people continue to swap photos and movies of what some call the most horrendous, violent and vile images.
"True child pornography, if you see it, you would never believe it," said Lt. Col. Vance Spath, staff judge advocate for the 90th Space Wing here.
Capt. Julia Muedeking, Warren's prosecutor in such cases, added that these pictures are not pornography as most know it. "Every one of these images is a crime scene."
And the crime is growing.
In 2006, Warren saw about 15 child pornography investigations. Now, the base faces about 30. Nearby Cheyenne, Wyo., is experiencing a similar increase: 35 cases in 2006, and currently about 400 ongoing investigations.
This increase could be attributed to the efforts of the nationally recognized Wyoming Internet Crimes Against Children task force. The ICAC task force created a computer program used around the world to find, track and report, in real-time, people dealing in child pornography on the Internet. With millions found in more than 200 countries, the ICAC's lead agent said the high numbers are not because his task force is aggressive but the crime is so rampant.
"This is not like shooting fish in a barrel; this is like taping a duck to the end of a shotgun and seeing if you can hit it," said Agent Flint Waters as he pointed to a desktop screen.
His computer just found someone in Wyoming with 221 suspected images of child pornography. Another screen displayed 40 records from investigators around the world who, during their investigations, have found people in Wyoming trading in child pornography.
Criminals who prey on or exploit children may wish to think twice before coming to Wyoming. But even with the ICAC's efforts, the crime continues, possibly due to a wide misconception of what child pornography truly is.
It is a federal crime to receive, possess, reproduce, distribute, sell, pander or produce child pornography. Federal law defines child pornography as any lascivious image or movie of anyone under the age of 18. This might be anything from a semi-nude sexual pose to intercourse and beyond.
In Wyoming, an 18 year old may have consensual sex with a 16 year old; however, if he takes a sexual photo of his girlfriend, he has committed two crimes: producing child pornography and possessing it.
"Airmen can get in trouble, not knowing it, just by doing what they think are the most innocent things," Colonel Spath said.
He emphasized that most cases are far from innocent.
Some might, out of curiosity, search for child pornography or click on a link in a questionable e-mail, but Colonel Spath warns everyone to simply stop before doing something criminal.
"Don't go near the line. If it says, 'pre-teen,' or if it says, 'barely legal,' I would go with probably illegal to look at the website," he said. "The titles are graphic. You will know whether it is something that deals with baby care or babies being abused. And, yes, it is that graphic out there."
Agent Waters agreed.
"By and large, the images we're working depict the horrible and brutal rape of children under the age of 8," he described. "No one would look at the stuff we're prosecuting and say, 'Oh, that's probably alright.'"
The crime doesn't stop with just still images; with high-speed Internet connections, movies are becoming more common.
"In a lot of cases, these movies might be 30 minutes long, and you can hear the child screaming for help," Agent Waters said.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has made child exploitation on the Internet one of the Justice Department's top three priorities. He explained why before a Senate committee last September.
"It is the faces of child victims that haunt my dreams," Mr. Gonzales said. "I can see their eyes, that awful emptiness, as if their tiny souls are trying to detach themselves from their desecrated bodies. The images of these victims have become part of my heart, and I am not going to tire in this fight to protect them."
"Moreover, these disturbing images are only the beginning of a cycle of abuse," Mr. Gonzales continued. "Once created, they become permanent records of the abuse they depict and can haunt the victims, literally forever, once they are posted on the Internet."
Agent Waters explained that in one situation of a 4 year old in Georgia, investigators found a movie of her sexual abuse in 800,000 cases within 18 months.
"You can't take that away; you can't undo that, and there's no other crime like that. It continues to come back and haunt," he said.
The victims haunted by these crimes are often prepubescent.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reports that of those arrested for Internet-related child pornography 83 percent had images of 6 to 12 year olds, 39 percent had images of 3 to 5 year olds and 19 percent had images of children younger than 3. In most cases, but not all, the victims were girls.
Professionals highlight that sexual contact at young ages disrupts the complicated development of human emotions.
"Children don't have a fully developed emotional repertoire. It can be very confusing to children when things like this happen," said Maj. (Dr.) John Stetson, a psychiatrist with the Warren Life Skills clinic. "Simple things like interpersonal relationships and issues with trust can be devastated. And that has a life-long effect."
Safe Harbor, a children's justice center in Cheyenne, works with children who are victims of sexual abuse and reports that such children often show signs of nightmares, eating disorders, fears, poor school performance and poor peer relationships. However, the long-term effects remain vague.
"Children are resilient at times, and that's a good thing, but we don't know the big picture of how long they will deal with the effect of what has happened to them," said Lynn Storey-Huylar, a forensic interviewer with Safe Harbor. "Sexual violation of children destroys their innocence, and you can never get that back."
She noted that people who collect and share child pornography are perpetuating the victimization of the child in the photo.
"Somebody who's downloading that porn, for one moment, is getting a little sexual gratification, and then they go on with their life. But that child who is the victim in that picture will live with that for the rest of their life. It's a life-long sentence," Ms. Storey-Huylar said.
There's no solid profile on the type of person who gets involved with child pornography. Outside of most being white males, the rest is anyone's guess. Child pornography cases have led to the arrests of doctors, soccer coaches and even police officers.
"You would think that someone who is engaging in this kind of behavior is a weird, single, older guy who kind of lives by himself in the corner house, but there are no specific identifiable factors. It's fathers who have families; it's guys who are married; it's successful business men," explained Glenn Garcia, an outreach manager with the Warren Life Skills clinic.
One aspect doesn't change: the addictive behavior.
"A lot of guys find out too late how destructive it can be. So many that we catch didn't mean to end up addicted to this stuff," Agent Waters said.
According to Agent Waters, about 60 percent of child pornography possessors eventually admit to molesting a child. Though not all act on it, when they share their child pornography, they could cause someone else to commit an even worse crime.
"Perhaps the person downstream from them is the one that uses it to validate their intentions and uses it to justify the rape of their 18-month-old grandchild," he said. "I suspect it may not mean as much to the person who's looking at the screen, but I bet it means a lot to that 18 month old."
Mr. Garcia added that most criminals are also very secretive to the point that spouses and other family members may never know. This emphasizes that pedophilia, a sexual attraction to children, doesn't inhibit judgment.
"[Pedophilia] is a deviate thought pattern from the norm, but it certainly doesn't prevent people from telling right from wrong and knowing that if they engage in that behavior, it is wrong," Major Stetson explained. "These people know that what they are doing is not a society norm. They know they need to keep it secret."
There is help for people with pedophilia. Treatment is not easy and tends to be lengthy, about 5 years, but it is available.
"People who have these thoughts or urges, we would be happy to work with them and try and help them before it crosses over into criminal activity," Major Stetson said.
Colonel Spath added that coming forward now is best.
"Self identifying can be a mitigating factor," he said. "It's a good step toward rehabilitation."
Those who think they can still hide from investigators may be surprised to know that even home computers log everything they do, and the Internet is far from anonymous.
"If they are going to do stupid, criminal things, I'm glad they think we can't catch them because it makes it easier," Agent Waters said.
Some may still feel that in the safety of their home no one will know.
"Well, we're going to know," Agent Waters warned. "We're going to kick their door in, seize all their material and throw their butts in jail."
Military members are always under the jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The UCMJ's general article, Article 134, allows for the prosecution of child pornography using the federal law.
However, this doesn't mean a military member will always face a court-martial for the crime; the local U.S. attorney's office may try the case in federal court. If the military member also used a government computer for the crime, they may receive a conviction in federal court then come back to face a court-martial for violating Article 92 of the UCMJ for misusing government equipment.
"Those alleged criminals who don't face a federal court will likely face a military one," warned Col. Mike Carey, 90th Space Wing commander. "There's no tolerance for this behavior in society, and there's no room for child pornographers in the Air Force."
"The punishments you face are severe," Colonel Spath added. "It's not days in jail; it's months, years or decades in jail and probably the end of your career."
Federal law allows possessors of child pornography to receive up to 10 years in prison. Those convicted of receipt and distribution may face an additional minimum of 5 years with a maximum of 20 years for a first offense. Production of child pornography carries an additional minimum of 15 years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Anderson explained that the law doesn't stop there. The U.S. guidelines increase the sentence for such things as the age of the children photographed, the degree of violence depicted and the number of images found. And each movie is immediately considered 75 images.
He added that most people prosecuted for child pornography possession have no criminal history, but rarely do they receive anything less than 5 years and 10 months in prison. Some see 15 years for a first offense.
"We will deal with them fairly, we will deal with them appropriately, but they will be looking at significant sentences if convicted," Mr. Anderson stated.
The U.S. attorney's office in Cheyenne has made prosecuting child exploitation cases a priority. Vigorous prosecution aside, Mr. Anderson credited the ability of ICAC agents in finding people with child pornography.
"Once they find the child pornography on the computer, it's pretty easy for us to make a case," he said.
When a possessor is charged, federal law allows holding them without bond. Mr. Anderson said this is because anyone who is sexually aroused by seeing a 3-year-old child being sexually victimized is of great concern to the safety of the community.
"The nature of the images that we typically see in these cases, the normal person would be very disturbed and sickened by these images," he explained. "Sooner or later, we think there's a substantial likelihood that these folks will act out. That's why the law treats it so seriously."
Once convicted, possessors of child pornography also become registered sex offenders and have to report that for the rest of their lives. They can try to explain to everyone they meet that it was possession and not molestation, but that won't always work, especially during a prison sentence when some child pornography possessors have to be separated from the general prison population.
"I have had clients, who I've defended, who went to jail for molesting children; they're not well liked," Colonel Spath said.
Captain Muedeking added, "Even convicts have a level of what's acceptable, and they don't find this acceptable."