Enable fight against child porn

By Lori Handrahan

People often recall when they learned Santa Claus wasn’t real. In Iowa, this innocence-lost moment apparently happens when children learn Betty Crocker isn’t real — or so I was told at the 10th annual Preventing Child Abuse Conference last week in Des Moines.

The other loss of innocence few want to discuss happens when a child is trafficked. America now produces half of the world’s child porn. The volume, with a new demand for livestreaming, requires a constant and voluminous supply of children. Most parents remain blissfully ignorant until their own child has been targeted.

Child trafficking is America’s fastest growing crime, expanding 150 percent per year. A criminal can earn $1,000 per night, tax free, molesting a child in front of a live webcam. Child porn films are major money makers. The child porn industry is estimated to yield profits as high as $20 billion per year and is rapidly overtaking drugs as the preferred moneymaker by organized crime syndicates. Children are being trafficked in staggering numbers for use in America’s child porn industry.

Tony Nassif, a charismatic Lebanese-American from Iowa, held the conference in Des Moines because this year marked the 30th anniversary of the abduction of a 12-year-old boy named Johnny Gosch who was ripped off the street while delivering papers for the Des Moines Register. Johnny was never rescued.

Noreen Gosch, Johnny’s mother, spoke at the conference. She proudly showed pictures of Johnny on his first day as a paperboy — and pictures that someone dropped at her house after his abduction, pictures that show her child bound, gagged and likely drugged in horrific poses.

Thirty years later, in July, Elizabeth Collins, 9, and her cousin Lyric Cook, 11, were abducted while riding their bikes. Drew and Heather Collins, Elizabeth’s parents, also spoke at Nassif’s conference. They begged, as any parent does, for their children back.

When Johnny Gosch was taken, Iowa police had a less-than-stellar response. Noreen worked to change the law. She argued: “The police don’t wait 72 hours to go after a bank robber, why would they wait to go after child abductors?” Police practice, however, hasn’t always measured up to the new law.

Enter a new generation of police; Special Agent Gerald Meyers, a Boston-transplant who loves Iowa and believes police must work with parents on the front lines fighting child trafficking. Meyers runs Iowa’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force — one of the best in the country. All 50 states have Internet Crimes Against Children task forces.

In order to prevent abductions, Meyers emphasizes: Those engaged with child porn must be caught and prosecuted. When a child is abducted, the police must work gently with traumatized parents. And police must be always looking for innovative ways to work with the community in the battle against the child porn industry.

In the Philippines, the Department of Justice’s Cybercrimes Chief invited the anonymous hacker community to join forces and take down pedophile rings. This is the kind of cooperation needed to win the war against child porn.

Meyers understands this and asked for my ideas. I suggested: Truckers against trafficking, truckers against pedophiles, bikers against child abuse and occupy police, as among potentially helpful groups that could be enlisted.

The child porn industry’s war on our children is real. Police must be given internal support to develop new policing practices that engage parents and people who are dedicating their lives to fighting child trafficking. We must set in motion a plan of action to win the war against the child porn industry that is trafficking too many American children.

Lori Handrahan is a professor at American University’s School of International Service, researching the national and international security ramifications of America’s child porn industry. Comments: handraha@american.edu