“Unfortunately, we´ve also seen a historic rise in the distribution of child pornography, in the number of images being shared online, and in the level of violence associated with child exploitation and sexual abuse crimes. Tragically, the only place we´ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims. This is – quite simply – unacceptable”- -US Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. at the National Strategy Conference on Combating Child Exploitation in San Jose, California
Child exploitation is a form of child abuse. Child exploitation can be an umbrella term to cover economic or sexual offences in course of which children may be sold, illegally adopted, forced into early marriage, recruited into the armed forces, pushed into prostitution, or trafficked to work in mines, factories, or homes.
A U.S. District Court sentenced a 38-year-old man called Scott A. Falkner who placed a hidden camera in a bathroom to take pictures of naked minor girls and distributed them on social media to a 16-and-half-year term in federal prison.
Besides spending the prison term, Falkner will also have to pay $21,000 to victims of child sexual exploitation.
A search of Walker’s home revealed over 423 pictures and 91 videos of child sexual abuse material on his cellphone.
Like most other criminals, Falkner miscalculated the preparedness and ability of law enforcement agencies when he sent messages containing child porn with the help of a messenger app.
This proved to be his greatest mistake as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children started the investigation and nabbed him.
Falkner pleaded guilty and admitted that he had secretly recorded five of these girls in the 10- 17 year age group in his bathroom and had downloaded the remaining videos from the internet.
The case was investigated by St. Charles County Cyber Crime Task Force and Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children in partnership with the FBI St. Louis Child Exploitation Task Force.
In yet another similar case Christopher D. Gruebbel, a 37-year-old man was convicted of possessing child pornography and using a fake social media profile to bait people into sending him sexual images and videos. He pleaded guilty to child pornography.
Gruebbel had in the past been sentenced to four years and three months in prison in 2013 for child pornography. After being released from prison, he was placed on supervised release for life but skipped doing so and was found to be in possession of electronic devices like a laptop, cell phone, iPad, and iPod, without permission.
An analysis of the devices showed that he was using fake social media accounts and posing as a young female named “Hannah” to bait people into sending nude pictures and videos of themselves. Gruebbel also participated in chat rooms devoted to “baiting” others into providing sexual images.
A total of 50 images and 14 videos containing child pornography were found on his iPad, as well as 251 images and 117 videos that contained exploitative and/or suspected child pornography on Gruebbel’s electronic devices.
The child pornography charge to which he has pleaded guilty carries a minimum 10-year prison term and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Probation Office and the FBI.
Both the above cases were investigated in keeping with the provisions of Project Safe Childhood to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. The Project Safe Childhood – an initiative of the Department of Justice empowers the Marshals to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children on the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.
Project Safe Childhood is a unified and comprehensive strategy to combat child exploitation with the help of law enforcement, community action, and public awareness. The idea behind the project is to reduce the incidence of sexual exploitation of children.
Project Safe Childhood
The proliferation of technology has facilitated crimes like the sexual exploitation of children. Sexual predators solicit children for physical sexual contact and distribute material related to child pornography. There is often an international dimension– as some offenders travel to victimize children outside of the United States or view live video streams (in addition to recorded still and video images) of children being abused in foreign countries.
The basic issue behind the initiative is the safety and well-being of every child and combating the sexual exploitation of minors in coordination with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies and advocacy organizations. Project Safe Childhood attempts to protect children by investigating and prosecuting offenders involved in child sexual exploitation.
The department expanded Project Safe Childhood in May 2011 to encompass all crimes involving the sexual exploitation of minors, including sex trafficking of a minor and crimes against children.
Child exploitation – a growing trend
Over the years there has been a significant increase in the number of obscene crimes against children including visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit acts, as well as distribution, possession, and/or production of child pornographic material to sexually abuse a minor.
Since the launch of the project thousands of children depicted in child pornography have been identified and rehabilitated. For instance, the investigators were able to identify a global network and arrest the offenders in 14 countries across five continents as a part of Operation Delego. Besides this, a number of international law enforcement investigations – such as Operation Joint Hammer and Operation Nest Egg – helped dismantle many international gangs involved in child pornography.
Project Safe Childhood has also been highly effective in apprehending and convicting offenders who have traveled or attempted to travel across interstate or foreign borders with the intent to either sexually abuse a minor or engage in other illicit conduct. Many of these were highly placed and reputed public figures– ranging from school principals to high-ranking government officials.
Over the years law enforcement agencies have processed more than 8.4 million reports of child sexual exploitation- the majority of which relate to child pornography and the internet in the USA alone.
Child exploitation – technology is making it easy to commit crimes
Since the inception of the program, investigators have received thousands of complaints of alleged child sexual victimization and have conducted more than 54,000 investigations which led to the arrest of more than 8,500 individuals.
Technological advances have encouraged child sexual exploitation offenders, especially those operating online. Every new technology used by law-abiding citizens is misused by the perverted offenders online to sexually exploit a child with the help of an anonymization network like Tor and Freenet, to conceal their real identity. This perceived anonymity helps the techno-savvy debauched offenders to feel invincible and post enormous images of a child (victim) on various social media groups and bulletin boards.
Many of the offenders collaborate with other like-minded offenders to perpetrate the offenses and motivate or inspire them to sexually exploit the children. While they make the job easy for the perpetrators of crime, these groups using encryption technology — allow anonymous messaging which cannot be monitored by law enforcement agencies thus adding to their problem.
Even after the criminals involved in producing child pornography-related content are identified and convicted the recordings made by them still circulate online and continue to be consumed by other like-minded people offenders – thus making it difficult to nab them.
Hence, there is a need for all stakeholders to collaborate and restrain the ‘black sheep’ in society who may want to harm our children.