Child porn in our backyard

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A little more than a year ago, Terry Corbin confessed to having more than 20,000 images of child pornography.

In September, the 54-year-old Cape Girardeau man will face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

But his victims -- the children in the images -- face a lifetime of trauma and yet may never be identified, according to local and national experts.

"Once that image is out there, we'll never be able to retrieve it. That child is always a victim, for life, because they never know when that image will turn up again," said Tammy Gwaltney, director with the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence.

Every week, an average of 40,000 to 70,000 seized image and video files from law enforcement child pornography cases are received and reviewed by the child victim identification program at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

According to the NCMEC -- a not-for-profit organization that works in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice --child pornography has turned into a multibillion dollar a year industry, in a large part due to accessibility provided by the Internet.

It could happen to you

To combat the problem, Gwaltney said local law enforcement has invested in additional training targeting child pornography cases and computer-related crimes.

"We're all seeing a stronger presence of child trafficking and pornography as well these days," Gwaltney said. "There are local people photographing their own children and putting it on the Internet, and there are people coming into the community soliciting children for sexual acts."

One such case involved a Wayne County man photographing children in the past year. There have been several cases of outsiders coming into the community, including a July 4 incident involving an Illinois man who drove three hours to Bollinger County after a conversation online with an undercover officer from the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department.

William J. Heyduck, 30, of Centralia, Ill., was charged with attempted statutory rape and had bond set at $7,500. His was the third such arrest in Bollinger County alone since March 8.

On top of law enforcement receiving training, Gwaltney said it's important for parents to be aware of the issues and do their part to prevent problems as well.

"I don't think parents are really aware of how easy it is for someone on the Internet to get personal information about their child," she said. "Where do you think predators hang out? They hang out where kids hang out. Just like they go to the park. They don't hang out at a retirement home, they go where children are. Same thing on the Internet."

Catherine Hanaway, U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Missouri, said the U.S. Attorney General's office implemented the Project Safe Childhood program this year in response to the growing trend. According to Hanaway, the program is designed to raise public awareness, improve prosecution in child exploitation cases and ensure that pedophiles understand the legal ramifications of their actions.

Receipt of child pornography carries a minimum penalty of five years in prison. Manufacturing child pornography has a minimum 15-year sentence.

"Because of the Internet, pedophiles and other child sex predators now have a perverted sense that what they're up to is normal," Hanaway said. "Before, you didn't chat about this with your neighbor. They find on the Web other people like them ... now they're more bold and aggressive."

Under federal and state laws, possessing, distributing and manufacturing child pornography are illegal. The federal law defines that form of pornography as a visual depiction of any kind -- including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, painting, photograph, firm or computer-generated image or picture -- depicting a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and is obscene or depicts an image that is of a minor engaging in graphic bestiality, sadistic or masochistic abuse or sexual intercourse.

Long term impact

In her 16 years as a counselor, Gloria Miller has seen an increase in child sexual abuse cases in general, though she isn't sure if that reflects an actual increase in the crime or just more victims coming forward.

Miller, a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapy supervisor at Community Counseling Center, said the long-term impact of such abuse, whether recorded as pornography or not, is varied.

Whether working with adults who have sought therapy over childhood abuse or with children who have been abused, Miller said there are coping skills that most victims have in common.

"The human being is a miraculous instrument. We develop these survival skills that serve us well for the purpose of surviving the trauma, but then later get in our way because they are an adaption to abuse," said Miller.

Miller said some research has shown that children who suffer sexual abuse actually have neurobiological changes -- like compromised immune systems -- as well as emotional side effects like disassociation and vulnerability.

"The children I've work with, it's like they're keeping a big secret, and when you keep a secret there's a few things that happen. You learn ways of coping, of createing safety through deception," Miller said. "Long-term, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the truth and a lie."

With adults and children alike, Miller said there is often a sense of self-guilt.

"But there's a potential for healing. I've seen it happen. If a person is struggling with an issue related to past sex abuse, I encourage them to find someone they trust, preferably a therapist, and try to work together through it," Miller said.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

GRAPHIC

By the numbers

* As much as 20 percent of pornography on the Internet may involve children.

* Almost all child-pornography possessors (more than 1,700) arrested in 2001 -- the latest year for which statistics are available -- were male, 91-percent were white and 86-percent were older than 25.

* Of those arrested in 2001, most possessed images of children who had not yet reached puberty; 83 percent had images of children between the ages of 6 and 12; 39 percenr had images of children between the ages of 3 and 5; 19 percent had images of children younger than 3.

* About 40 percent of those arrested in 2001 were "dual" offenders who had both sexually victimized children and possessed pornography, with both crimes discovered in the same investigation.

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