Heed new ways to track, convict child predators

An Aug. 23 AP story highlighted a highly effective, mobile forensics lab deployed by the central Indiana Internet Crimes Against Children task force. The lab is revolutionizing how that state investigates child exploitation and child porn, helping to make Indiana a national model. Recently, officials used the lab to help search for and assess computers and other devices in the suburban Indianapolis home of former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, leading to Fogle’s agreement to plead guilty to paying for sex with girls as young as 16 and to receiving child porn.

The mobile forensics lab is just part of what makes the task force so effective. The consortium uses everything from search dogs capable of finding tiny hidden thumb drives to the latest communications analysis technology to find and retrieve information, including information perps may have tried to destroy by disassembling cell phones or other devices. And it comprises an unprecedented cooperation among local, state and federal agencies.

Child porn is a serious and growing problem that the Internet is driving. The number of child porn images shared between 2007 and 2011 grew by a factor of four, the Sumall Foundation reported. Sumall concluded that digital technology makes it easier both to produce and to consume pornography. No more need to drive to an adult bookstore when you can view images in the comfort of your own home. Such ease of access is also transforming consumers, who are no longer only the “dirty old men” of yore but ordinary citizens, “an average guy who kind of clicks into darker and darker content,” Sumall’s report notes. Further, such behavior is starting early; 13 percent of boys had visited porn websites, and a third of those boys had looked at sexual images online when they were 10 or younger.

This is no victimless crime: 30 percent of child porn victims are under 12, and 7 percent are just 5 or under. And, Foundation researchers noted, there is a strong correlation between child porn consumers and those who act on their impulses. Sumall found 53 percent of those arrested for producing child porn are also charged with sexual contact with a minor.

Responsible citizens will insist that society do its best to protect children from predators who would exploit them by making child pornography — where they could be violated again and again through shared images — or by those who would seek unlawful personal contact with them. The Indiana task force, with its mobile forensics lab, offers a strong and effective model for that battle.

Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

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