The Tennessee Valley has seen more than its fair share of child porn arrests.
In March of this year, 12 Alabama men were arrested during a multi-state operation, aimed toward stopping the sexual exploitation of children.
During Operation Southern Impact, four of the 13 children rescued were from Alabama. Outside of the sting operation, there have been many more child porn arrests made, including right here in North Alabama. “Possession of child porn is obviously a more frequent charge than the production,” explained Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton.
Singleton said a person does not have to create the content in order to be charged with child porn production. “When most people think of production, they think of lights, camera, action, kind of thing and that’s not necessarily the case. Under the law if someone copies an existing video and saves it to another file or sends it to someone else, then that under the law is also defined as production.”
A recent example of this happened in February, when a video showing a six year old girl being forced to perform a sex act on an Alabama man went viral. It was shared thousands of times on Facebook, in hopes of getting the suspect identified, but authorities warned sharing the video was also a crime.
With technology at our fingertips, the dissemination of child porn has become easier and sometimes self-imposed. “Unfortunately, a lot of images that are being created right now, are not necessarily being taken by someone else, but they’re being taken by a child themselves,” said Chris Newlin the Executive Director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center.
“Sometimes when they’ve been tricked or duped by someone or when they’re doing it in an act of in a relationship,” Newlin added.
Newlin said it’s important for parents to create an open dialogue with children as an everyday routine. “How to protect themselves, what they should do in the event someone does something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Talk about the difference between a surprise and a secret, you know surprises are positive, secrets are always not so positive.
Sex offender therapist Dr. Frankie Preston said many people are exposed to pornography at a very early age.
“We know that about 92% of pre-adolescent males and 62% of females are exposed to pornography before their mid-teens,” Preston explained.
He added there are two types of people who become addicted to child porn. “One type is there are people that are pre-exposed or they like child pornography because they are attracted to children. There’s another group of people that, very often happen up on child pornography, because they have watched other kinds of pornography to the point they have become bored or satiated and so they look at different types and styles.”
Offenders come from all walks of life. Ten years ago the Florence Police Department was alerted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, that its Police Captain was in possession of child porn.
“He was viewing child pornography on the city computer,” Singleton explained. “He was arrested and charged, convicted and served a seven year sentence for possession of child pornography.”
A new computer forensics lab at Redstone Arsenal will allow local law enforcement to work with the FBI to bring down those who are sexually exploiting children.
“The internet is wide open for this type of trafficking, so when these sex offenders show up in our community, we need to be able to prosecute them for what we have, but we need to be able to take their computers apart and find out who they are and who they have been transmitting this pornography to, and take down entire networks of these individuals around the world,” Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray said.
Anyone with information about the possible production of child porn is asked to call your local law enforcement or the Alabama Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at (334) 353-1224.