Technology continues to progress at astonishing rates. Regrettably, so too has the use of technology to exploit children.
In recent years, we have seen an alarming trend involving the use of technology by child predators. The use of social media, webcams, and smart phones have made it very easy for criminals to meet children and to create videos of sex acts on children. It has also provided a forum for child predators to share images and ideas and to embolden one another.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan has been involved in Project Safe Childhood since 2006, partnering with a number of other agencies, but in recent years, the cases have grown increasingly disturbing.
Just last week, a Dearborn Heights man was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in manufacturing child pornography depicting himself and another man sexually abusing young children who had been sedated. As a result of the work in that case, ten children were rescued from abusers.
A New Threat
In the late 1990s, I prosecuted cases involving the distribution of child pornography over the Internet. These cases generally involved the distribution of still images created overseas in the 1970s. Now, the cases are much more chilling. Child predators use social networking sites to develop relationships with children, sometimes posing as teenagers themselves. They then entice these children to leave their homes and meet them somewhere in person.
As in last week’s case, child predators are also manufacturing child pornography. They use webcams and smart phones to record videos of their sexual abuse of children, and then they share it with others on the Internet. These videos frequently include audio recordings along with the video images.
At one time, child predators could only take photos and develop film in their own darkrooms, because they couldn’t take the film to the corner drug store for developing. That required significant work, time and expertise. Now child predators can create an image instantly with a handheld device and send it out on Internet immediately. Once the images are published on the Internet, the children are re-victimized forever.
The new technology has also created a convenient way for child predators to find a community of others who abuse children. Before the Internet, it was difficult for child predators to find like-minded individuals. Now, predators find each other in Internet chat rooms, and they can share images, videos and advice at the click of a button. Child predators encourage and embolden each other to act on their desires to sexually exploit children.
Combating the Threat
We in the law enforcement community recognize the need to work together to keep up with the child predators who are utilizing technology to target children. Last year, the Department of Justice revised its strategy to keep up with this evolving threat. The strategy includes goals to increase coordination among investigators, improve training of investigators and prosecutors, advance the technological capabilities of law enforcement to keep up with the child predators, enhance research to inform decisions on deterrence, incarceration and monitoring, and to continue prevention efforts through community outreach.
Here in Michigan, the U.S. Attorney’s Office partners with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Secret Service, Michigan State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Macomb Area Computer Enforcement, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Offices in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, and the Sheriff’s Departments in Wayne Oakland and Macomb counties to investigate and prosecute cases of child predators. Together we have rescued dozens of real children who were being sexually abused.
In one recent case prosecuted by this office, a Lake Orion man arranged a meeting online with someone he thought was the mother of an 11-year old girl. He agreed to meet the girl at a hotel for sex. In fact, there was no girl, and the mother was an undercover FBI agent. Far more often, the victims are real. In another recent case, an FBI agent found a man in Monroe who had created a paid subscription website with images of the sexual assault of a young child. The abuse of the child went on for more than eight years.
Community outreach is an important part of this office’s efforts to reduce child exploitation. Our prosecutors and agency partners provide presentations to parents, children, teachers and community groups to raise awareness about how children can use the Internet in a way that avoids danger. These presentations change frequently to meet the ever-changing technological advances in online communication. The presentations involve handouts for parents and teachers, and include contact information for follow-up information. Organizations interested in a presentation are encouraged to contact Susan Plochinski, Paralegal for the United States Attorney’s Office, at 313-226-9193 or Susan.Plochinski@usdoj.gov.
Technology creates all kinds of new possibilities for creative minds. Unfortunately, it also creates new possibilities for criminal minds. We are committed to working to stay one step ahead of the criminals who use technology to prey upon children.
Barbara L. McQuade
Eastern District of Michigan