We cannot ignore child exploitation | Guest Column

by Anita Castle

Special to the Sounder

Our close-knit Orcas community has been gut-punched by the news that one of us – a well-known, well-liked family man and successful business owner – was arrested and charged with distribution of child pornography.

My own reaction was one of shock, sadness and empathy for his family. Many of his friends and supporters have rallied around him and his family. This is what our community does so well. We give support when and where it’s needed. We coalesce and take care of one another.

At the same time, it’s important that we don’t become complicit or in denial when it comes to the issue of child pornography – now often referred to as child sexual abuse material (CSAM) to more accurately reflect that child pornography is always child abuse).

Over the course of my practice – before, during and since my tenure at Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services – I’ve learned a great deal about deviant behavior and victim abuse. But none of my past experience adequately prepared me for what I have learned over the past few weeks about the dramatic expansion of CSAM possession and distribution.

One of many disturbing discoveries was that child abuse images and videos are most often created for the sole purpose of being shared widely for other offenders to watch. Or that it is common for children and adolescents to be victimized repeatedly. Or that technological tools such as anonymizers and encryption have enhanced the ability of offenders to avoid detection by law enforcement. Or that babies and infants are among those abused and exploited. Or that the United States has been and remains one of the largest producers and consumers of CSAM in the world.

The U.S. Department of Justice has reported a historic rise in the distribution of CSAM. According to THORN (www.wearethorn.org), a non-profit organization created to eliminate child sexual abuse, “[a]fter nearly disappearing in the 90s, the spread of child sexual abuse material exploded with the rise of the internet, while child sex trafficking increased with exposure to a greater market online [and] the problem is complex and still growing.”

Personal collections of CSAM can be staggeringly large and the demand for deviant images has created an entire industry operating primarily in the dark fringes of the internet. Technological advances, custom software, proxy software and other tools can make access to CSAM discouragingly easy.

Thankfully, in addition to THORN, there are other active efforts to stem child abuse and exploitation. For example, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides the public a resource to report online a broad range of predatory child sexual exploitation and related illegal conduct (www.missingkids.com and www.cybertip.org). As more evidence of the incredible rise is of activity in this area, the number of child sexual abuse files reviewed by the center increased dramatically from 450,000 in 2004 to 25,000,000 files in 2015.

Enough is Enough (www.enough.org) is a non-profit proponent of internet safety, which seeks to prevent the sexual exploitation of children online. The site www.Pedo.help is an international information and prevention project on pedophilia. And there are many other organizations both public and private with similar objectives.

I’m grateful to live in a community as caring as Orcas. But I also want to help ensure that all of our children are safe. And that means if allegations of any kind of child abuse in this or any other instance are substantiated, the abusers must be held legally accountable.

Anita Castle is the retired executive director of SAFE San Juans (formerly known as Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Services).