For 30 years, the victims’-rights movement has fought for a larger role for victims in criminal prosecutions. Victims have gained the right to make statements in court about the impact a crime has had on them, which judges can take into account in determining punishment....
"Alan Hesketh, a former vice-president of Pfizer, was charged with trading nearly 2,000 child-pornography photos online."
"Study after study links child sexual abuse to psychological trauma, addiction and violent relationships in adulthood. There is almost no research, however, that deals with the specifics of Amy and Nicole’s experiences: What additional harm comes from knowing that pictures of your childhood exploitation are circulating widely?
The Supreme Court actually addressed this question in its 1982 decision upholding child-pornography bans. “ ‘Pornography poses an even greater threat to the child victim than does sexual abuse or prostitution,’ ” Justice Byron White wrote, quoting from a book about abused children. “ ‘Because the child’s actions are reduced to a recording, the pornography may haunt him in future years, long after the original misdeed took place.’ ”
When Nicole was a child, her father took pornographic pictures of her that still circulate on the Internet.
The detective spread out the photographs on the kitchen table, in front of Nicole, on a December morning in 2006. She was 17, but in the pictures, she saw the face of her 10-year-old self, a half-grown girl wearing make-up. The bodies in the images were broken up by pixelation, but Nicole could see the outline of her father, forcing himself on her. Her mother, sitting next to her, burst into sobs.
The detective spoke gently, but he had brutal news: the pictures had been downloaded onto thousands of computers via file-sharing services around the world. They were among the most widely circulated child pornography on the Internet. Also online were video clips, similarly notorious, in which Nicole spoke words her father had scripted for her, sometimes at the behest of other men. For years, investigators in the United States, Canada and Europe had been trying to identify the girl in the images.
Nicole’s parents split up when she was a toddler, and she grew up living with her mother and stepfather and visiting her father, a former policeman, every other weekend at his apartment in a suburban town in the Pacific Northwest. He started showing her child pornography when she was about 9, telling her that it was normal for fathers and daughters to “play games” like in the pictures. Soon after, he started forcing her to perform oral sex and raping her, dressing her in tight clothes and sometimes binding her with ropes. When she turned 12, she told him to stop, but he used threats and intimidation to continue the abuse for about a year. He said that if she told anyone what he’d done, everyone would hate her for letting him. He said that her mother would no longer love her.
Nicole (who asked me to use her middle name to protect her privacy) knew her father had a tripod set up in his bedroom. She asked if he’d ever shown the pictures to anyone. He said no, and she believed him. “It was all so hidden,” she told me. “And he knew how to lie. He taught me to do it. He said: ‘You look them straight in the eye. You make your shoulders square. You breathe normally.’ ”
When she was 16, Nicole told her mother, in a burst of tears, what had been going on at her father’s house. Her father was arrested for child rape. The police asked Nicole whether he took pictures. She said yes, but that she didn’t think he showed them to anyone. A few months later, while her father was out on bail, Nicole was using a computer he gave her to work on a presentation for Spanish class when she came across a file with a vulgar name that she couldn’t open. She showed it to her mother and stepfather, and they brought the computer to the police.
A search detected five deleted video files of child pornography, two of them showing Nicole and her father. In the spring of 2006, he was charged with a new crime — producing the videos — and he fled the country. At this point, the police didn’t realize that Nicole’s father had also distributed the images.
Months later, the police said they had no leads on her father, so Nicole went on television to ask the public for any tips that might help them find him. A police officer in Toronto involved in tracking child pornography around the world saw the broadcast and recognized Nicole as an older version of the girl in the notorious videos. The Toronto officer set off an alert that reached the police in Nicole’s hometown, informing them that she was the victim in a major pornography-distribution case.
The alert brought the local detective to Nicole’s house on that December day, to confirm that she was in fact the girl in the pictures that circulated around the globe. “It was the worst moment of my life,” Nicole said of seeing the pictures of herself. “In a way, I didn’t remember it being that bad with my father — and then I saw that it was. Knowing that other people, all over, had seen me like that, I just froze. I could hear my mother crying, but I couldn’t cry.”
Nicole’s appearance on TV produced a tip that eventually led the police to arrest her father in Hong Kong. But by going public, she had inadvertently exposed her identity to thousands of men who for years had collected her images. On one Web site with an American flag design, on a thread that continued for four years, commenters described in detail the acts of rape and bondage Nicole had experienced. One called the videos “legendary.” Another called her “an eager participant” because her father instructed her to smile and talk in the videos. “The fact remains that she is the most searched for, sought after and downloaded ever,” a third commenter wrote. “There are hours of video out there. It’s just too bad there are not more willing like her.”
For Nicole, knowing that so many men have witnessed and taken pleasure from her abuse has been excruciating. “You have an image of yourself as a person, but here is this other image,” she told me. “You know it’s not true, but all those other people will believe that it’s you — that this is who you really are.”
Until the 1970s, magazines with titles like Lolita were rife with sexual images of minors and routinely sold alongside adult pornography at red-light bookstores. In 1978, Congress made child pornography illegal, and four years later, the Supreme Court upheld a state law banning its sale. The court’s decision changed the market along with the law. “The commercial distributors started to go out of business,” said Kenneth Lanning, a retired F.B.I. agent who consulted on child pornography cases for decades. For a time, distribution and production plummeted. But then came the Internet. By the mid- to late 1990s, Lanning said, “there was a way for people seeking it to find each other and send images.”
A decade later, the Justice Department interviewed veteran experts like Lanning for a 2010 report, and concluded that “the market — in terms of numbers of offenders, images and victims” — was growing to a degree described as “overwhelming” and “exponential.” In the early-Web year of 1994, only 61 defendants were sentenced in federal court for child-pornography offenses; in 2011, 1,880 were, a 30-fold increase. The federal definition of child pornography extends to young people up to age 18, but the 2010 report noted that it had become more common for images to involve young children, as well as violence and sadism.
Precise numbers of child-pornography viewers are hard to come by. Unicef estimates that there are at least hundreds of thousands of Web sites with child pornography worldwide. Child-pornography consumers are even more likely to swap with one another via hidden networks. Using a tool developed at the University of Massachusetts, in 2009, police have logged close to 22 million public I.P.addresses offering child-pornography pictures or videos via peer-to-peer file sharing, which allows users to download content from one computer to another; almost 10 million of the I.P. addresses were located in the United States. Many of the users shared only a single illegal image, perhaps downloaded inadvertently, but others offered collections of hundreds or thousands of pictures....
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