Published October 25, 2007
After hearing from federal investigators, advocates for children, canon lawyers and technology experts, archdiocesan officials are examining how to raise awareness in Catholic churches across North Georgia of the crime of child pornography.
Sue Stubbs, the director of the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the church can influence the fight against the crime “to bring it out of the shadows and into the spotlight and to find ways to address it at every level.”
Child pornography—which is illegal to make or to possess in all 50 states—is exploding as more people connect to the Internet. And the crime has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Experts are starting to link looking at the explicit images of young people to sexual assaults against children.
In Georgia, people from all walks of life have been arrested in connection with preying on children. Peachtree City police have made close to two dozen arrests since May 2004 with an Internet child sex sting operation. In 2006, an economic development leader in Gwinnett County was charged in connection with child pornography.
In a continuing effort to protect the young and vulnerable, church officials from Atlanta attended a Washington, D.C., workshop on Sept. 13 that focused on combating the sexual exploitation of children. Others attending the workshop included Pat Chivers, the archdiocesan communications director, and the vicars general, Msgr. Joe Corbett and Msgr. Luis Zarama.
“We feel the responsibility to protect all children. It’s part of keeping our promise,” said Chivers.
And for Chivers, the workshop had a practical lesson. Her grandchildren do homework on her home computer. She learned to watch for suspicious activity designed to lure in unsuspecting children.
“It’s a wakeup (call) for me as a grandparent,” she said.
Nationally, church leaders have been outspoken against the industry that targets the very young.
“It was once thought to be a victimless crime; we now know that is far from the truth. It exploits children both as it is made and afterwards. It leaves young people vulnerable to those who sell, view, and distribute it,” said Archbishop George Niederauer, the leader of the U.S. bishops’ Communication Committee and Bishop Gregory Aymond, the leader of the bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.
The Washington workshop was sponsored by the two bishops’ committees, and was the first time child pornography was addressed in the church’s continuing drive to emphasize the safety of children.
The 235 participants came from 95 dioceses and about 15 religious congregations.
Experts said young children are at greater risk of exploitation. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 56 percent of minors used in child pornography are pre-pubescent.
And as the Internet takes its place as a necessity in today’s world, young people online receive more aggressive solicitations. Nearly one in seven youth 10 to 17 years old online received a sexual solicitation over the Internet, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Researchers said the solicitations have dropped in recent years, but the unwanted requests are more sexual.
The effects from child pornography are long lasting, especially if the graphic images are available on the Internet. Along with physical injuries, the victims face exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, depression, withdrawal, anger, feelings of guilt and other psychological disorders that can plague the victims into adulthood. Women abused as children have greater risk of a variety of problems, from nightmares to eating binges, and other similar symptoms, according to experts.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children studied 1,713 arrests in 2000 and 2001 to understand the people possessing the material. The Virginia-based organization found that almost all the possessors were men, 91 percent white, and 86 percent older than 25. Some 38 percent of the people arrested were either married or living with partners, while 41 percent never married.
Church leaders said it is important for the church to be aware of the child pornography industry to get more information in the hands of parents since they are the best protection against the crime.
Stubbs said she attended the workshop to learn more about the “progressive compulsion.”
The church can raise awareness of the problem by educating parishioners and ensuring children are protected, Stubbs said.
Chivers said the church teaches that families are the central institution to raise children, so the church needs to support families.
Technology is helping fight the crime, but it also helps people who prey on children.
The exploiters are very good at finding loopholes in the law, said Stubbs, and manipulate technology to escape prosecution. The law says that the image has to include an actual child, so the producers digitally manipulate images, taking the head from one child and putting it on the body of another, she said. Producers claim the image isn’t an actual child and argue they haven’t broken the law, she said.
Chivers said she was impressed how advocates for children developed technology to match features of children from photos with a database to identify victims. Also, there are detective tools that organizations use that can reveal where the pictures are taken to aid law enforcement in tracking victims.
Topics at the seminar also included concerns related to civil law and canon law, and the need for acceptable use policies for all church property.
To report an incident involving the possession, distribution, or production of child pornography, go to the Web site www.cybertipline.com operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Tips are forwarded to law enforcement authorities.And for a free Web filtering program there is www.k9webprotection.com. It blocks more than 55 categories of content, including pornography, hate speech and sites that promote violence or permit gambling.