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Child Pornography: A Growing Threat For Children

According to the sheriff's department, three men, ages 19 and 20, walked into a California church and alleged they had been sexually abused, dating back five years, by the church's 31-year-old youth leader.

The church reported the incident to the sheriff. The sheriff's detectives responded and contacted the alleged perpetrator on the same day.

The three alleged victims were minors at the time of the alleged conduct. Investigators have also identified a fourth victim between the ages of 15 and 17, in addition to "two other potential juvenile victims."

Investigators say the accused youth leader admitted to sending, requesting, and receiving "explicit photos of his genitals and photos of the victim's genitals via text message and social media with all of the victims." He faces charges of suspicion of possession and distribution of child pornography, lewd acts, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and sexual battery.

At the time of his arrest, the alleged perpetrator was already working as a teacher at another church. That church did not respond to reporters' requests for comment. Mark Gomez and Robert Salonga "Saratoga church youth leader arrested on suspicion of child porn, sex crimes," https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/05/13/saratoga-church-youth-leader-arrested-on-suspicion-of-child-sex-offenses/ (May 13, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Church leaders in this case did the right thing. They immediately contacted law enforcement when the three victims came forward. Any report of child sexual abuse, which includes child porn, must be reported immediately.

Child pornography is a threat to children. According to a 2016 report to Congress by the Department of Justice called The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction:

  • In Tor (an anonymous internet network) alone, there are 1.3 million images depicting children subjected to violent sexual abuse, according to the FBI.
  • According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), their analysts reviewed approximately 26 million sexual abuse images and videos in 2015 alone. Additionally, NCMEC received 4.4 million CyberTipline reports during the same year.
  • Further investigation by the FBI showed that a single website hosted on Tor had about 200,000 registered users and 100,000 individuals had accessed the site during a 12-day period.

According to the FBI: "child pornography is a form of child sexual exploitation. Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (persons less than 18 years old). Images of child pornography are also referred to as child sexual abuse images. Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, importation, reception, or possession of any image of child pornography."

We do not know from the article how the second church, alerted to the arrest of its teacher, responded, but we would anticipate the man would be terminated in light of his admission regarding transmitting illegal photos.

Organizations that work with or around children should take specific steps to protect children under their care:

  • Carefully select and screen all employees and volunteers.
  • Develop clear and specific policies on interactions of youth with employees, volunteers, and between each other.
  • Present these policies to any applicant for a volunteer or an employee position. Talk about the policies in the interviews. Letting applicants know your workplace is on watch for any suspicious behavior may discourage those intent upon engaging in the maltreatment of children from continuing with the hiring process.
  • Monitor behavior of employees, volunteers, and the youth. Watch for suspicious behavior.
  • Create a safe environment, such as locking unused rooms, providing safe meeting places where activities can be observed, using the "buddy system" so no child is alone with an adult.
  • Respond promptly to inappropriate behavior, breaches of child protection policies, and allegations and suspicions of child sexual abuse.
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