A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

When people talk about child abuse, they often forget to talk about the impact it has on the victims. While we hear about the the general psychological damage, we do not hear about the day-to-day struggles victims go through. For example, if a person was used in child pornography, how does it affect them? One man gives us some insight in that:

He sleeps little, suffers panic attacks, can’t afford private counseling. Still youthful at 28, he rarely leaves home, fearful of recognition.

“I feel like I am always being watched,” he said.

He could move, like he did from Kentucky, but he can never outrun the Internet.

He knows little of Tampa or St. Petersburg except this: Men here, like men everywhere, have viewed graphic photos and videos of him being sexually abused as a boy of 12 to 14.

Government mail tells him of discoveries on the computers of Michael D. Meister of Pinellas Park, Joshua C. Abel of Valrico, Brian Leavitt of Palmetto, Daniel E. Lombardi of St. Petersburg and Kyle C. Muellerleile of Tampa, among thousands of people worldwide who have been caught with his images.

Each week brings more victim notices, 10 to 30 at a time. He could shut them off, but he can’t bury a past kept in circulation by strangers who keep finding pleasure in his humiliation.

“It’s a monkey on your back that never goes away and always gets heavier,” said the sex crime victim, who agreed to an interview on the condition that his name and current location not be divulged.

Many victims of abuse experience this. I experience it. While I do not receive notices about people viewing my pictures, I am aware that they are out there and at least one person I know who works with the FBI asked me about them.

When I was younger, I would wonder whether people who stared at me did so because of how I looked or because they recognized me from the photos and videos. I worried about what would happen if someone I knew in college or at the jobs I worked found the images. Would they mention them? Share them with others? Confront me about it?

Given my experiences, I also worried whether someone might outright approach me asking whether I enjoyed it.

I am just old enough to have missed the MySpace/Facebook/Twitter phase, so I did not have to deal with anything like this:

The boy was still 14 when he got a glimpse of the future that is now. He was sitting in a middle school classroom when another kid poked around on a computer and shared what he saw.

There it was. A Web page with the victim’s nude photos.

“I thought it was all still confidential,” he said.

His mother rushed him out of the state to live with relatives.

I knew even as a child that the videos and pictures were going to be around for a while. Once I found out that people shared this things online, I knew the images were not going anywhere. While it is not true that once something is online everyone has it, it is true that once something is online it is very difficult to get rid of it.

A digital copy is a perfect copy. If someone scanned pictures or transferred VHS video at a high resolution, those images will last as long as someone keeps the files. I am old enough that at least some of the images were taken with analog devices while the rest used current technology.

It is unsettling, and yet I have a different take than most people do about the images. I would rather people share my images than make new ones. I am not much older than the man from the article, so perhaps sharing my images with his abuser or the people who looked at his images would not have spared him. Yet it might spare younger boys.

Let these people use my pictures and videos so that they do not have to hurt other kids. The damage has technically been done. It may bother me that the images are still out there, but not at the level it did making those images in the first place.

Another aspect of this problem is that modern technology allows people to create these images with little chance of being caught. Back in the 60s and 70s, people needed to develop the pictures they had. That increased the chances of getting caught. Once instant pictures and VHS camcorders came out, it made it much easier for people to make the images, but it was still very difficult to share them. People could only do it in person or via mail, the latter of which made it incredibly easy to get caught.

The internet more or less prevents that. People can share information anonymously, hidden behind proxy servers, and protected via secured, private peer-to-peer connections. It is sad to say, but at this point one must be incredibly naive or technologically inept to get caught sharing child porn.

The technology also connects people in a way that they were never connected before. A person can create images in Cambodia and stream them to someone in the Netherlands who then saves and trades them to people in the United States, Japan, and Russia. That means that the people the government reported to the young man from the article represent a fraction of the men and women who viewed his pictures.

Now add to that what happens when you give a 13-year-old a smartphone. All the normal teenage behavior gets digitized, and what may be a nude selfie sent by a boy to his girlfriend may end up circling child porn underworld without the boy ever knowing.

There is little that we can do about this problem without controlling internet access. The latter is, of course, unacceptable. The vast majority of people who use the internet do not abuse children, and even with blocks on access, that may not stop people from sharing using various other means.

That said, I think it is important for people to realize the state of the problem. I do not think that demand for child pornography has increased so much as the technology allows us to see what likely went on beforehand. We get to see the world is not as pretty as some of us think.

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3 thoughts on “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

  1. Pingback: The evolutionary wisdom of slacking off on one’s efforts | vulture of critique

  2. Awesome personal post, TS.
    What I’ve never understood is how viewing any picture of someone who is, to you (the viewer), totally anonymous (esp for child porn, few people look as teens or adults the way they did as children) in any way, shape, or form harms that person.
    Now if a picture is attached to a PERSON – some identifying information – then if consent was not given I can fully see the reputational and even personal harm that could result.

    In this case , unless these people had to know something about him to get those pictures, it seems rather harmless esp since some of the ones ‘named and shamed’ had his picture as one of hundreds, so there was no personal intent involved. Ironically, someone who possesses a single picture of his abuse could go to jail far longer than his abuser did, and depending on statute longer than his abuser would have even if they charged the guy to the full extent of the law and got a conviction.

    There’s something really messed up about that, and to the extent that resources are wasted on this sort of thing rather than preventing the abuse and punishing /rehabilitating (possibly both depending on circumstance) the offenders that tells me the system is out of whack.

  3. What I’ve never understood is how viewing any picture of someone who is, to you (the viewer), totally anonymous (esp for child porn, few people look as teens or adults the way they did as children) in any way, shape, or form harms that person.

    Technically it does not directly harm them. I have no way of knowing who is looking at my pictures at this very moment. However, the thought that someone is viewing those images can be very troubling. So in that sense it does indirect harm.

    Ironically, someone who possesses a single picture of his abuse could go to jail far longer than his abuser did, and depending on statute longer than his abuser would have even if they charged the guy to the full extent of the law and got a conviction.

    That is unfortunately very true, and I agree quite ironic. After all, if they are pictures of my abuse, how have I committed a crime by having them? I am the victim, so am I victimizing myself by keeping the pictures? To my knowledge, no one has been charged with possessing images of their own abuse, but there is no law preventing them from being charged. A tricky legal issue would be if the victim sent the image to the abuser as proof the abuse happened. Technically that would violate federal law, even though the victim’s intent was to confront the abuser.

    There’s something really messed up about that, and to the extent that resources are wasted on this sort of thing rather than preventing the abuse and punishing /rehabilitating (possibly both depending on circumstance) the offenders that tells me the system is out of whack.

    I think the intent behind the effort is to give victims the money they need to get help. I do not have a problem with that per se, although I do find it odd that random people who did not touch the victim should have to pay while the actual abuser may not have to pay anything at all.

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