What is the Magnitude of Child Exploitation?

Hundreds of Thousands of Known Child Pornography Possessors are at Large

Each of the indicators below represents just one portion of total child pornography trafficking. Based on these indicators, a safe and conservative estimate would place the number of U.S. individuals actively engaged in child pornography trafficking in the hundreds of thousands.

Key Indicators

2008: 20,000 Child Pornography Traffickers Identified Daily

In 2008, the Department of Justice-sponsored ICAC Task Force network, searched the Internet daily for suspects distributing child pornography. This investigation searched only certain types of trafficking in limited areas of the Internet. It also focused on the most graphic and brutal child pornography. In late 2008, this system was identifying 20,000 unique IP addresses daily. Law enforcement has conducted real-time demonstrations of this program for Congress, allowing lawmakers to see thousands of individuals in the act of advertising, trading and distributing movies and images of child sexual abuse. Source: Wyoming Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

2008: 50,000 Child Pornography Traffickers Identified Monthly

In 2008, The ICAC Task force network was identifying over 50,000 unique computers (as opposed to a larger number of IP addresses) engaged in trading and distributing child pornography on the Internet. Investigators reported that the number of suspects they see was proportional to the number of agents conducting online searches (a number that remains low), as well as the number of known movies and images they track (a number that is also kept low). Source: Testimony of Wyoming Special Agent Flint Waters before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, 2007.

300,000 Child Pornography Traffickers Identified Annually

In 2008, The ICAC Task Force network identified over 300,000 unique computers (as opposed to IP addresses) engaged in trafficking child pornography. There were no reliable estimates on how many suspects use more than one computer to distribute child pornography, though this factor must be weighed against the large percentage of traffic notbeing monitored by ICACs and the movies and images not identified and searched for by law enforcement. The ICACs have identified millions of crimes and logged over a million potential suspects since 2005. Source:  U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, 2008.

“Hundreds of Thousands” of Individuals in the U.S.

In May, 2006, Justice Department officials were questioned aggressively by Rep. Joe Barton (TX) on the actual magnitude of child pornography trafficking in the United States. Barton expressed concern that DOJ officials were minimizing the true magnitude of the problem because the President’s budget had not requested appropriate funding from Congress to deal with the crisis. In testimony before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, Alice S. Fisher, Assistant Attorney General told Barton that there were “hundreds of thousands” of individuals in the U.S. committing child pornography crimes. (May 3, 2006)

“Hundreds of Thousands” of Victims of Child Pornography Offenders in the U.S.

Also under questioning by Rep. Barton, FBI Cyber Division Chief Raul Roldan estimated “hundreds of thousands” of child sexual assault victims of individuals who are also engaged in child pornography crimes. It should be noted that these victims are not necessarily victims of child pornography, per se, but of criminals who are involved in child pornography crimes. Source: Congressional testimony of Raul Roldan, FBI Cyber Division Section Chief, before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee (May 3, 2006).

Hundreds of Thousands of Victims, Using Extrapolation

UNH-NCMEC Study: The most well-known study on the link between child pornography possession and sexual assault is “Child Pornography Investigators Arrested in Internet-Related Crimes,” conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Researchers interviewed law enforcement to determine how often individuals arrested for possession were identified as “dual offenders.” The study found that 40% of possessors had sexually assaulted children directly, and an additional 15% were known to have attempted to entice children over the Internet, for a total of 55%.

National Association to Protect Children Estimates: Although it appears likely that the percentage of child pornography offenders who also sexually abuse children directly is higher, National Association to Protect Children uses an estimate of “1 in 3” (33%), simply in the interest of being conservative. Using the most conservative estimates of the number of child pornography offenders at large, the number who are likely to be “hands on” offenders, and the number of victims each offender has, it is reasonable to conclude that there are hundreds of thousands of American children who are victims of criminals who possess or traffic in child pornography. An alternative approach would be to research the percentage of known child sexual abuse offenders who also possess child pornography, almost certainly higher.

Over 100,000 Child Pornography Websites

In testimony before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, Arnold Bell, then FBI Innocent Images Unit Chief, estimated there are 130,000 child pornography websites.

Child pornography investigations by federal law enforcement agencies are largely focused on “enterprise” investigations involving organized and commercial child exploitation, rather than wide-scale investigations that might reveal a larger picture of child pornography trafficking. It is unclear, though doubtful, whether the FBI, ICE or U.S. Postal Inspection Service have a technical capacity, similar to Operation Fairplay, to detect child pornography trafficking on a mass scale and thus develop broad strategies for responding beyond their daily triaging of cases. Nor have the federal agencies shown a willingness to be candid about the full magnitude of the crisis, preferring to emphasize their arrests, prosecutions and percentage increase in cases worked, however small.

Millions of Known Movies and Images

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a nonprofit agency authorized by Congress to house child pornography, reported in 2007 it had identified 9.6 million images and movies of child pornography. NCMEC reports that just 1,200 victims have been identified from this mountain of evidence. Of these, “35 percent of the photos were taken by a parent, 15 percent by another family member, and 20 percent by someone close to the child or the family.” Source: “NCMEC Commentary,” Christian Science Monitor (Nov. 26, 2007).

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