A huge bust for the FBI highlights the growing market for child pornography images.   More than 70 members of a child pornography ring have been charged for engaging in what authorities describe as “horrific” and “unthinkable” crimes, sexually exploiting children as young as infants.

It’s important to recognize that the term “child pornography” refers to material that visually depicts children under the age of 18 engaged in actual or simulated sexual activity—these are pictures and videos documenting child sexual abuse.  When you watch and download child pornography, you are becoming a bystander, a witness and even an enabler to actual sexual crimes against children.  Often when we think about pornography, we think about willing participants—actors and adults.  These are not willing participants—these are often innocent victims, violated and abused by family members, babysitters, trusted community members, physicians, etc.  Just to help us understand the depraved nature of this content, I’m going to call it like it is: child sexual abuse.

To become part of this online community, prospective members were required to upload child sexual abuse images depicting children under 12-years of age, with an emphasis on very young children.  Once given access, as Attorney General Eric Holder shared, “participants had to continually upload images of child sexual abuse in order to maintain their membership.  The more content they provided, the more content they were allowed to access.  Members who created and shared images and videos of themselves molesting children received elevated status and greater access.”

As covered on CNN, investigators were particularly horrified by the “super-hardcore” posts that involved adults having sexual intercourse with very young kids—in these images, some of them with infants, it was obvious that the children were in pain, crying and in distress.  The site may have been a vehicle to distribute 123 terabytes of child sexual abuse images and videos, and about 600 men belonged to the members-only site.  Authorities are continuing to identify the victims and perpetrators.

The site highlights how technology has been hijacked for deep, dark evil.  Predators and pedophiles have been able to use the Internet to share law evasion tactics, swap victims, share child sexual abuse images and videos and encourage the normalization of their abusive behavior. While the members of this particularly community exhibit an especially dark addiction and are clearly deeply involved with perpetuating a cycle of abuse, I’ve known fathers, mothers, lawyers, doctors, and teens that have been arrested for possession, distribution and even creation of child sexual abuse images.

Before the Internet, it was very difficult to obtain child sexual abuse images, but now, anyone can easily access this material.  One of the most popular types of pornography, “Barely Legal” content feeds the desire to see young-looking boys and girls (adult actors made to look like pre-pubescent boys and girls) engaged in sexual acts.  I’ve known many individuals who began with soft-core material, but found that they needed harder and harder-core content to reach sexual climax.  In their search for more extreme pornography, some have come across child sexual abuse images and have started to fall down a rabbit hole of deviant and illegal content.  For some individuals, their access to child sexual abuse images may even feed their desire and normalize acting out on real children.  All of this to say that, even though this behavior is highly illegal, destructive, horrific and evil, the individuals engaged in this behavior do not always start out with an interest in young children.  If you or someone you know is struggling with pornography addiction or sex addiction, I do hope you will seek help—we have an online counseling program, X3pure, that can help you in the battle to be free.

And for the parents reading this, here are a few proactive steps you can take to help protect your kids from my friends at Darkness2Light:

  • Minimize the opportunity for abuse by eliminating or reducing one-adult/one-child situations.   Organizations that your child is a part of should have a policy about this and should train their staff and volunteers to recognize and react to child sexual abuse.
  • Meet the adults in contact with your children!  Even if you have heard good things about them—abusers are incredibly manipulative and are often times well-respected members of the community.  They will become friendly with your family and try to earn your trust.
  • Talk with your child when they return from spending time with any adult—pay attention to your child’s mood and note whether the child can tell you with confidence how the time was spent.
  • If you do allow your child to spend along time with an adult, drop by unexpectedly—this applies even to trusted family members.
  • Talk to your child about sex and their bodies.    Ask specific questions and understand how children communicate.  If they do tell you anything alarming or even joke about something inappropriate, do not overreact and take them seriously.  (More information on communicating with your children here.)
  • Monitor your children’s online and mobile interactions—know whom they communicate with, and install filtering and monitoring software on your computers, gaming and mobile devices (we recommend SafeEyes or X3WatchPro).