WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 — The invention of the Smartphone has impacted the lives of millions of users worldwide but none so dramatic as those who remain its silent victims. Every day an increasing number of children are victimized using Smartphones, as their innocence is traded away and their hopes and dreams are vandalized through the proliferation of child pornography.
Smartphones found their way into the lives of consumers for the first time in 1994, combining the features of a Personal Digital Assistant and a cellular phone. Today, over a hundred million people own a smartphone in the United States, and worldwide ownership has increased to over a billion. The Pew Research Center reported this year that 56% of adults and 47% of teens in the United States own a smartphone.
As technology raced to keep up with consumer demand, applications for smartphones blossomed and from the increased power and capability of these programs a darker side emerged. Child pornography is an epidemic that has spiraled out of control, and efforts to stem the tide of children being exploited have merely scratched the surface of a growing cesspool of images distributed online.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Child Victim Identification Program was created in 2002, and by December of 2012, it had investigated more than 80 million images of child pornography.
Child pornography has found a new breeding ground on smartphones. In 2011, the Australian Federal Police broke up a pedophile ring that operated using smartphones. During the raids, two children were rescued and eleven men arrested in a nationwide sting. One of the men was convicted of raping two children aged ten and fourteen.
Smartphone applications or “apps” created to share pictures or videos are now being used by pedophiles to share images of children being raped and exploited. One reader reported a mobile application, known as Whatsapp, which showed a video of a two to three year old girl raped and sodomized. The reader said that the young girl in the video looked as if she had been put through this horrendous experience many times before.
A report by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) in 2012 details 1,145 cases of psychological manipulation or online grooming. In one case, two brothers were alleged to have groomed 110 children in two countries.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that, “State and local law enforcement agencies involved in Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces reported a 230 percent increase in the number of documented complaints of online enticement of children from 2004 to 2008.”
Pedophiles are also using smartphones for blackmail by taking pictures and video of their sexual abuse of children and threatening to show them to family members or post them online. The children become trapped and unable to escape the horrific vandalizing of their innocence.
In 2012, the FBI filled the spot that had once held the name of the most hated man in America, Osama bin Laden, with Child Pornographer Eric Justin Toth. Toth used his position as a teacher at a private school to produce pornographic images of children. A Maryland court indicted Toth in 2008 for the production of child pornography after images were found on his camera. He was arrested in Esteli, Nicaragua, in April of this year and was extradited to the United States. Using an assumed name, he advertised his services as a tutor and a nanny before he was apprehended.
According to Ryan C. W. Hall, MD, and Richard C. W. Hall, MD in their 2007 article, “A Profile of Pedophilia:“Studies and case reports indicate that 30% to 80% of individuals who viewed child pornography and 76% of individuals who were arrested for Internet child pornography had molested a child.” A 2008 study conducted at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., asked 155 male inmates in a treatment program convicted of Child Pornography if they had ever molested a child. At the start of the program twenty-six percent of the men admitted molesting a child, but as the program ended that number changed to eighty-five percent.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (CEOP) reports that the latest atrocity by pedophiles is the targeting of poor families in underdeveloped countries. In exchange for payment, children engage in sexual acts as they are “live streamed” over Skype, which can be accessed via smartphone. The agency stated in its annual assessment of the threat of child sexual exploitation; “The number of images and videos shared online by British pedophiles in 2012 rose two-fold in a year to 70,000.” It also “warned of a possible increase in abuse in Brazil as visitors head there for the 2014 football World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.”
The answer to ending child pornography is not simple but forming a coalition of state, federal and local law enforcement and the firms involved in creating and distributing the technology that allows these images to be broadcast is a beginning.
Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter have begun that process by agreeing to form a database of the most horrendous images of child abuse. The database would be in the hands of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, the charity founded by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. Google is also pioneering technology to “fingerprint” images of child pornography so they can be tracked across the web without having to view them.
Microsoft partnered with Dartmouth College to create the fingerprinting technology called “Photo DNA. The program is part of a five million dollar initiative that would allow law enforcement, corporations and charities to track or remove these images. Photo DNA is being incorporated into the Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS) that allows for the monitoring of suspects numbering in the hundreds and eradicates duplication.
The United States, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Belgium, Italy, and the United Kingdom currently use Photo DNA in the fight against child pornography. Google has also created a two million dollar Technology Fund to foster the development of tools that help to eradicate the scourge of child pornography.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have reported that 2 million children are exploited in pornography or prostitution each year. Victims of child pornography are manipulated and imprisoned, shackled by chains of fear created by threats against their lives or the lives of their families. The shame and embarrassment of child pornography follows its victims throughout their lifetime and is the foundation for their darkest nightmares. Victims are forced to relive the horror of their abuse every time someone in public looks at them with a sense of acknowledgment, because in the mind of a victim there is a bottomless sense of their abuse being broadcast for the entire world to see.
Please join me in the fight against child pornography and help prevent the next child from becoming a victim. You can join the fight by educating yourself and others about the devastation of child pornography and by reporting any images that exploit a child to the proper authorities. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintains a Cyber Tip line at 1-800-843-5678. The Cyber Tip line is operated in conjunction with state and local law enforcement agencies, U.S. Department of Justice, Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, military criminal investigative organizations and the United States Secret Service.
You can also report child pornography directly to your local and state law enforcement agencies. We can end child pornography if we all work together as individuals, as communities, as businesses, as governments and as ambassadors of humanity. I have worked my entire life to recover from the abuse I suffered; let us save the next child before their innocence is stolen one megabyte at a time.