Editor’s Note: This article contains graphic content about child pornography and child sexual abuse.
“I am a 19 year old girl and I am a victim of child sex abuse and child pornography.”
So begins the powerful “Statement by Amy,” read in a packed court of law in front of the child’s uncle, a man she was trying to prevent being released from prison.
“I am still discovering all the ways that the abuse and exploitation I suffer has hurt me, has set my life on the wrong course, and destroyed the normal childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood that everyone deserves.”
One of the rare victims of child pornography to publicly speak out against her abuser, “Amy”—as she asked to be called to protect her privacy—was a victim depicted in a collection of sexual abuse images and videos shot by her uncle.
The collection, featuring Amy in various ages of development, begins with sexually explicit images and videos of a four-year-old Amy, and ends with Amy as a nine-year-old 3rd grader. Images of Amy’s abuse are widely viewed and distributed on the Internet.
The problem of online child pornography is one not easily understood or acknowledged. From our work here at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, we have come to learn much about child sexual abuse.
We know most victims are abused by someone they know. Like Amy’s uncle, they are a trusted family member or friend who has legitimate access to the child.
Of the cases we intake, about half of victims are girls (57 percent) and half are boys (43 percent). Seventy-six percent, like Amy, are victims of child pornography before they hit puberty. Of this number, 10 percent are infants or toddlers.
Child sexual abuse images and videos are often extremely graphic and violent. Among the images of identified victims submitted to NCMEC in the last five years, most depict anal and/or vaginal penetration. Almost half include depictions of bondage and/or sado-masochism.
Despite Amy’s young age, she remembers her abuse vividly.
“At first he showed me pornographic movies and then he started doing things to me. I remember that he put his finger in my vagina and that it hurt a lot. I remember that he tried to have sex with me and that it hurt even more. I remember telling him that it hurt. I remember that much of the time I was with him I did not have clothes on and that sometimes he made me dress up in lingerie. And I remember the pictures.”
It is stories like Amy’s that make our work so important. Here at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children we assist in the fight against child sexual abuse images and other forms of child sexual exploitation in our suitably named Exploited Children Division. Analysts work around the clock to assist law enforcement in their identification of child victims depicted in the over 90 million images and videos that have been reported to NCMEC since the Child Victim Identification Program was launched in 2002.
Although most victims of child pornography remain nameless, analysts at NCMEC have been able to assist law enforcement in identifying more than 5,100 victims of child pornography, allowing children to be located and rescued from their abusers.
The Dark Net
Most of us will never come upon sexually abusive images of children in our lifetime of browsing the Internet. Much of this is due to technological advances and the evolution of the Internet, which have allowed both the good and bad to find its place online.
Child sexual abuse images have found a place on the “dark net” – a web underworld where users hide various forms of illegal activity from the public and law enforcement.
Systems which allow users to mask their web location and activity have been widely praised for their ability to protect political and free speech advocates.
Unfortunately, these systems can also be used as havens for offenders seeking to use their anonymity to hide extensive libraries of illegal content depicting the sexual abuse of children.
The sheer volume of online child sexual abuse images is a challenge for law enforcement, who must adapt to an ever-changing dark net, where technologies that mask illegal online activity are becoming the norm.
In 2012 alone, over 400,000 reports were submitted to NCMEC’s CyberTipline of persons suspected of possessing, manufacturing, or distributing child pornography.This is good news for NCMEC analysts. Increased reporting to the CyberTipline means more children are protected, more abusers arrested and more child sexual abuse content is removed from the Internet.
“The dedicated team of CyberTipline analysts who respond to each and every report are driven by a desire to make a difference in the lives of children around the world.” says Michelle Collins, Vice President of our Exploited Children Division. “I encourage anyone who suspects child sexual exploitation to make a report to the CyberTipline, which we will provide to the appropriate law enforcement agency.”
To those of us unexposed to child pornography, it is a world hard to grasp, with victims that seem to live in someone else’s house, or in some distant community, rather than among us. The horrifying reality—that victims may be our children’s classmates, in our neighborhood, and part of our own families—is perhaps too difficult to acknowledge.
Maybe it is important for us to see Amy, not as a faceless victim, but as someone we know and love. After suffering through six years of violent abuse, Amy was rescued from her uncle when she was nine.
In Amy’s own words: “I am being exploited and used every day and every night somewhere in the world by someone.”
Please think about Amy when you are browsing the Internet. If you see or suspect child sexual exploitation online, report it to the CyberTipline at www.cybertipline.com or 1-800-843-5678.
Child pornography is a serious crime involving the graphic sexual abuse and exploitation of children and should never be compared to pornography involving consenting adults. Child pornography photos and videos depict literal crime scenes in which the children are victims. Possessing, distributing or producing child pornography is a crime in the United States.