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Proliferating child pornography

Sexual Abuse | Public outcry against online child sex abuse often misses the link to adult pornography
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 10/11/19, 05:10 pm

Tech companies, child protection advocates, and law enforcement agencies find themselves drowning in an ever-increasing number of child pornography cases. A New York Times investigation published late last month found reports of child porn have exploded in recent years—from 3,000 in 1998 to 1 million in 2014 to 18.4 million in 2018, which included more than 45 million images and videos.

About 1 in every 10 agents from the Department of Homeland Security’s investigative unit works on child sexual exploitation cases, the Times reported, but an agent in Nashville, Tenn., told reporters, “We could double our numbers and still be getting crushed.” Officials also said offenders increasingly share images and videos of younger victims and more extreme abuse. The Times reported the FBI, overwhelmed by reports and with limited resources, has narrowed its focus to tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children related to the sexual abuse of infants and toddlers.

Technology has fostered an environment of anonymity for individuals who otherwise might not seek out child sex abuse imagery. At the same time, it has made it easier for offenders to access and transmit images and hide their tracks with encryption, masked locations, and dark web forums. “People who traffic in child exploitation materials are on the cutting edge of technology,” Susan Hennessey, a former lawyer at the National Security Agency who researches cybersecurity at the Brookings Institution, told the Times.

Efforts to fight the proliferation of this imagery have not kept up with the exponential growth. The federal government has not fully funded or implemented a landmark 2008 federal law allocating resources to fight online child sexual exploitation. Tech companies, under pressure to protect user privacy, do not always cooperate with investigations. In March, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the app Facebook Messenger, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of child abuse image reports last year, plans to start encrypting messages on its platform to provide users with more privacy. The change also means more privacy for abusers to send exploitative content undetected.

The Times’ horrifying dive into the world of online child sexual abuse ignored the link between adult pornography and the growing demand for sexually exploitative images of children, according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. The group contends that mainstream pornography intentionally includes performers and storylines that mimic teen and childlike scenarios.

Research continues to find that porn use, like any other addiction, numbs the senses and leads to an escalating need for more. Put another way, child sexual abuse consumers don’t always start as pedophiles. A 2018 study identified the most prevalent behavior pattern among 40 convicted child pornography users as “a progressive decrease in the age of the person depicted and a progressive increase in the severity of the sexual acts.” Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland passes spanking ban

Scottish politicians this month made good on a promise to ban corporal punishment despite widespread opposition from citizens. The Scottish Parliament voted 84-29 earlier this month to criminalize spanking or “smacking” children as a form of punishment, an action the measure’s proponents labeled violence against children. Scotland is the first country in the United Kingdom to pass such a ban.

“Sadly, it will be decent families who will pay the price for all this virtue signaling,” the opposition campaign Be Reasonable said in a statement after the vote, arguing authorities will investigate, prosecute, and charge good parents. “The existing law protects children. It outlaws violence and abuse.”

A government survey in March found 89 percent of Scots opposed the proposed ban. Parliament heard testimony from law enforcement officials who said the new law would not help efforts to fight child abuse and instead create a backlog of child welfare cases. —K.C.

Illegal adoptions

Officials arrested an attorney in Arizona this week on 62 charges in three states stemming from an adoption fraud scheme. Paul Petersen, the Maricopa County assessor, reportedly ran a black market adoption practice, illegally matching pregnant women from the Marshall Islands, a Pacific island country between Hawaii and the Philippines, with wealthy adoptive families in the United States. Investigators say Petersen, a Republican, swindled taxpayers by signing the women up for Medicaid to pay for their healthcare.

As a young man, Petersen did mission work as a Mormon in the Marshall Islands and made contacts that helped him establish his adoption practice, according to the watchdog website Honolulu Civil Beat, which first reported the story last year. —K.C.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley is a former WORLD correspondent.

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  •  nxlcsdeo's picture
    Posted: Fri, 10/11/2019 11:23 pm

    Thank you, Kiley, for some really thought-provoking short reports.  All three had to do with the use and abuse of children.  My heart breaks for these little ones.  May we be faithful in leading them to the Father, in whom is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5)

  • TP
    Posted: Thu, 10/17/2019 02:24 pm

    Kiley, thank you for these updates.  The explosion of child pornography is heartbreaking and horrifying.  I would love to hear from World about ways the rest of us (not government, not law enforcement) can stand with and help these children.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Thu, 10/17/2019 06:32 pm

    I’m of the opinion that child sexual abuse/exploitation is one crime that calls out for the death penalty, swiftly administered.