by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(April 30, 2008) An explosion in child pornography and cyber crime is causing U.S. law enforcement to admit they are losing the battle to combat child pornography and child exploitation on the Internet.
During testimony on the status of efforts to curb the problem at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on April 23, FBI Director Robert Mueller said simply, “We’re losing.”
The agency has 270 agents working on the Innocent Images program, a multi-agency international operation created in 1995 to fight the spread of child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children online, Mueller said.
However, in that same period of time, the caseload has grown from 113 cases in 1996 to more than 2,400 cases last year. The Internet is largely to blame for this proliferation and has made child pornography into a $20 billion-a-year business.
“I will say that we have almost 270 agents working nationwide, but I’m not going to tell you that this is sufficient to address this,” Mueller said. “As I’ve indicated to you before, it’s tremendously important. It’s an issue that is deserving of more resources.”
The Innocent Images program involves law enforcement officers from 21 countries who pose as children on the Internet to lure predators into sting operations or pose as collectors sharing images of children. They work in unison with a task force and training center located in Maryland, as well as with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify children and potential adults depicted in the abuse.
However, more help is needed, particularly from Internet service providers (ISPs) such as AOL.
The FBI and Justice Department are exploring the feasibility of expanding data retention at major ISPs to help law enforcement pursue child pornographers and those who provide these images on the Internet.
“It’s important that we have access to the records,” Mueller said. “Records retention by ISPs would be tremendously helpful in giving us the historical basis to make a case in a number of these child predators who utilize the Internet to either push their pornography or to lure persons in order to meet them.”
Robert M. Peters, President of Morality in Media, published an open letter to Mueller about his testimony saying he hoped the agency would succeed in these efforts. But “I also hope the Justice Department and FBI will change their counter productive obscenity enforcement policies that make it more difficult if not impossible to win that war,” he wrote.
Peters said the FBI and U.S. law enforcement are not doing enough to fight obscenity, let alone child pornography.
“The FBI also makes it difficult to successfully wage war against child pornography by refusing to devote more than token resources to combating obscenity and by refusing to investigate obscenity crimes that do not depict the most extreme hardcore pornography,” Peters writes.
Adult pornography contributes to the sexual exploitation of children in numerous ways, he said.
First, most men who view child pornography usually start out by viewing adult images. Second, child molesters frequently use “adult” obscenity to entice, arouse, and desensitize their child victims. Third, there is a growing market for “teen” porn which may make the transition to child porn easier for men. Fourth, the use of pornography fuels the prostitution market, which in turn victimizes women and children who are often trafficked into this market. Fifth, addiction to obscene materials is destroying countless marriages which puts children at greater risk for sexual abuse.
“In addition to protecting children from sexual exploitation, the Justice Department and FBI should also be doing all they can to protect children from exposure to Internet obscenity,” Peters writes. “In the late 1990s, Congress twice enacted legislation to protect children from Internet pornography, but the Supreme Court invalidated the CDA in 1997, and COPA has been tied up in the courts since 1998.”
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, recent statistics show that one in seven youth online between the ages of 10 and 17 receive a sexual solicitation over the internet. Four percent of these are aggressive solicitations, meaning the predators attempted to meet them somewhere, called them on the telephone or sent them money or gifts. Thirty-four percent of children are exposed to unwanted sexual material while on-line.
“It wouldn’t require a tremendous allocation of investigative and prosecutorial resources to substantially reduce traffic in obscene materials,” Peters writes, “because much if not most hardcore pornography is controlled by a relatively small number of companies based in the U.S. But it would require a commitment.”
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