The scourge of child sexual predators is a cancer in our society. A three year operation centered in Canada, code named Project Spade, has netted 348 arrests and rescued nearly 400 children from a child pornography ring which encompassed investigations in 9 different countries, including the United States. Canadian authorities have identified the man at the center of the investigation as 42 year old Canadian, Brian Way. Way was the owner of Azov Films, which served as the distribution point for the pornographic media that investigators estimate had been sent to 94 different countries.
Way has been in custody since May, 2011, following an undercover sting operation of child sexual predators which led to his arrest. He is facing 11 separate charges in connection with his arrest, including paying individuals to photograph and film children up close. Azov Films has been shut down.
One of the most disturbing parts of the case, according to Inspector Joanna Beavan-Desjardins of the Toronto Police, was the number of suspects who had close contact with the child victims. Doctors, teachers, foster caregivers, and priests are among those.
While today’s breaking news regarding Project Spade is a welcome victory in the fight against child pornography and child sexual predators, the battle is far from over. The continued advancement of the internet and of technology has allowed a crime that was nearly eradicated in the 1980s to once again flourish, and, as the perpetrators grow bolder, the images become more graphic and violent. This very phenomenon was discussed by Attorney General Eric Holder when he addressed the National Strategy Conference on Combating Child Exploitation on May 19, 2011.
Holder stated, “Unfortunately, we´ve…seen a historic rise in the distribution of child pornography, in the number of images being shared online, and in the level of violence associated with child exploitation and sexual abuse crimes. Tragically, the only place we´ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims. This is – quite simply – unacceptable.”
According to the Department of Justice, the internet allows those wishing to view child pornography a nearly unfettered access to other pedophiles and images through instant messaging, chat rooms, email, and other devices. Online communities have developed which serve to connect pedophiles, “normalize” their behavior, and desensitize the pedophile to the emotional, psychological and physical damages done to the child victim. The communities also allow the pedophiles to share images and videos at will, as well as potentially attract new participants to the very lucrative business of child pornography.
The other sad reality of the child sexual predator’s use of the internet is once a picture or video of a child is “out there”, it is so forever, able to be pulled from online vaults or secret emails. This means that even after a child is physically rescued from the sexual abuse, the trauma can still continue on for years, potentially following a child into adulthood. The other trauma faced by the children, and the adults trying to protect them, is the fact that many of the abusers are those entrusted with the care and safety of the children they are abusing.
This became very evident when the identities of the arrested were made public today. According to The Australian, Authorities stated that worldwide, the arrests included 40 teachers, 32 child volunteers, 9 doctors and nurses, nine pastors and priests, and 3 foster caregivers. In the United States, the arrests included a lawyer and youth baseball coach who admitted to making over 500 sexually explicit videos with youths he molested; a school employee who not only received the pornographic material, but admitted to placing cameras in school toilets; a pre-school teacher who made videos while teaching in Japan; and a police Sergeant who admitted to filming a child involved in sexually explicit conduct.
Much focus has been placed on the availability of victims to sexual predators through the anonymity of the internet. However, the results of Project Spade show that while the internet is definitely a place for caution, the pedophile next door is just as dangerous. According to the National Violence Research Center, 1 in four girls and 1 in 6 boys will be the victim of childhood sexual abuse before they turn 18, and the most likely culprits will be relatives or those with close access to the child, such as a neighbor, coach, teacher or friend.
Furthermore, a 2013 study by the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center showed no real difference in crimes committed by sexual predators who know their victims and those who sought their victims out online. Study Author Janis Wolak said the key is not to diminish the threat of online predators, but to talk to children about what sexual assault is in general, and to help children realize what a sexual assault is, no matter where it comes from.
These studies only confirm that to protect children from sexual predators, parents must be aware of what is going on with their children, and who the adults are in their lives. In her article for Parents Magazine, Jessica Snyder Sachs, herself a victim of sexual abuse, says that parents should not be afraid to question adults when something feels “off.” After talking with many experts in the field, Snyder Sachs says that schools should have an open door policy, and parents should feel free to drop in unannounced for visits, especially during afterschool programs or in daycare settings, and if the setting is innately private, such as a counseling session, a small window should still be available to allow a parent to observe. Also, friendships with older children should be monitored, as many who commit sexual abuse against a child are under 18 themselves.
The scourge of child sexual predators must be stopped. And what is the expert’s suggestion if a parent suspects abuse has already taken place? Linda E. Johnson, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, said in the Snyder Sachs article that it is important not to investigate on your own, but to immediately report the suspected abuse to the state child protection agency, and if your child tells you he or she has been abused, the best thing you can do is: “Listen, listen for all you are worth.”
An Editorial By: Heather Pilkinton