Behind Closed Doors: Child Pornography
A Dark Obsession
Experts are struggling to answer Carol's question just as the problem of child pornography expands. Worldwide, the United States appears to be the leader in both the production and consumption of child porn, probably because of widespread access to the Internet here. The ICAC task force estimates the ever-growing number of offenders in this country at nearly half a million. They come from all parts of society, says Arnold Bell, assistant section chief of the FBI Innocent Images Cyber Division. Bell reports that doctors, academics, police officers and clergymen have been prosecuted. In 2007 an attorney, Charles Rust- Tierney, former head of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, began serving a seven-year sentence for possession of child porn.
A congressionally funded 2005 NCMEC study found that almost all of those arrested for possessing child porn were men; 91 percent were white, and 86 percent were older than 25. Seventy-nine percent had a high school education or better, while 73 percent were employed full-time. They are, in other words, seemingly average guys.
These men are apt to fall into one or more of four categories, according to NCMEC: They're pedophiles (which means they are sexually attracted to children) or "hebephiles" (who are attracted to adolescents); they're on the lookout for new sexual stimuli; they're curious and acquire a few images to satisfy that interest; they want to profit by selling the material.
In the past individuals who were drawn to this material may have thought they were abnormal, according to Alice Fisher, a former assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice. This served as a check on their behavior, Fisher says. On the Internet, though, they find others like themselves and feel free to indulge their fixation. The obsession may include the need to view a good deal of violence. In the 2005 NCMEC study, 21 percent of those possessing child pornography had images showing sexual violence toward children.
The increase in the numbers of images available and their increased violence, as well as the decreasing age of the children depicted, trouble researchers and investigators. Fisher says that over the past several years the images have become "horrifying, with the age of the victims decreasing to less than 3 years old. You never get those pictures out of your mind."
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