Justice Department says child porn growing, victims' ages dropping

WASHINGTON — The spread of child pornography, fueled by the Internet, is outpacing efforts to combat it, the Justice Department said Monday in a report to Congress that promises more arrests, prosecutions and better coordination among federal, state and local authorities.

Attorney General Eric Holder said child pornography, the number of images being shared online and violence against children all have increased.

"Tragically, the only place we've seen a decrease is in the age of victims," he said in a speech at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The average age of a child targeted for prostitution is 12 to 14 for girls and 11 to 13 for boys, according to an FBI official.

The report, ordered by Congress in legislation approved two years ago, concedes that the market for child pornography is continuing to grow rapidly and that determining its size is impossible. "The number of offenders accessing the images and videos and the quantity of images and videos being traded is unknown," the report said.

"This is an epidemic," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who was one of the primary authors of the law that mandated the national strategy that Holder introduced.

"It is a cancer in our country that has metastasized and if we don't do more to stop it it will devour our nation's soul," she said.

Wasserman Schultz said the anonymity of the Internet has created a "thriving black market for child pornography. These images are beyond reprehensible. This is not obscenity, this is not pornography. These are crime scene photos: sexually graphic images of children of all ages, including infants."

Orlando has been identified as "a major recruiting area for national and international abusers of children," the report says.

Two programs have identified more than "20 million different IP addresses offering child pornography on a peer-to-peer file-sharing network," with one of the programs having found 170,000 child pornography files.

Creating or possessing images that depict the sexual abuse of children is illegal. There is no First Amendment protection for child pornography.

In announcing a national strategy for preventing child exploitation, Holder cited steps being taken by federal authorities to help law enforcement:

• Target the "top 500 most dangerous" sex offenders who have not registered with authorities in the states where they live.

• Create a database to increase cooperation among authorities at all levels of government.

• Hire 38 new prosecutors for child porn cases.

The increased attention to fighting child pornography already has led to record numbers of prosecutions and tips. More than 8,600 people have been prosecuted at the federal level since October 2006.

State and local authorities focused on the use of the Internet in child sexual exploitation have reported that documented complaints of online enticement of children more than tripled from 2004 to 2008 and complaints of child prostitution rose more than 10 times.

A victim of sexual abuse by her father, identified only as Melissa to protect her identity, spoke at the event and urged victims to tell someone if they are being abused. She said that sometimes family members will not believe the claims, and so a victim should tell someone like a school counselor.

Melissa was sexually abused from preschool until she was 12, and her father took photos and shared them with other abusers. Although her father is in prison, Melissa said that in the back of her mind she will always know that photos of her are online and that there are people looking at them.

This story includes information from the Associated Press

Justice Department says child porn growing, victims' ages dropping 08/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 11:40am]

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