Authorities have the technology - and the drive - to find out who is looking for and sharing child porn

Authorities have the technology - and the drive - to find out who is looking for and sharing child porn

Unlikely as it sounds, Urbana police Detective Tim McNaught said he sometimes has a hard time shutting down the computer when he’s investigating a person viewing child pornography.

That's because he's afraid the person looking at it might also be actively engaging in the same sick behavior he's watching.

"I feel like I have a vested interest. Obviously, I want to protect the community, but I have three young daughters," said the 13-year member of the Urbana Police Department.

McNaught is one of a handful of area police officers who have received advanced computer training to find who's downloading and sharing child pornography. The officers say there are so many people doing it that they could investigate child porn full time if they didn't have other crimes to work on.

"Magazines and bookstores are quickly going out of vogue. A lot of it being online these days has gotten more people involved, makes it simpler to find, and easier to conceal," said sex offender therapist Mike Kleppin, who has offices in Champaign, Urbana and Danville and counsels men convicted of sex-related crimes.

"I carry it around on a flash drive if I'm saving, and I usually am. I can hide a flash drive and it's inconspicuous as opposed to my wife coming across a magazine with kiddies in provocative poses," Kleppin said.

Finding who's downloading child porn is relatively easy. Deciding whom to prosecute and where is more problematic.

State versus federal

Those charged in state court with possession of child pornography can get probation if convicted. That's usually not so if the case is filed across the street in federal court.

"The question always is which jurisdiction can best handle the case. Who has the best resources? Who's going to get the most significant sentence?" Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly Peirson does all the child porn prosecutions in Urbana's federal courthouse. She was hired as part of a Department of Justice initiative called Project Safe Childhood, launched in 2006. She started in Urbana in 2008.

"Sometimes the cases I get are a little bit more technology complicated. It requires search warrants to be done on servers located in Seattle or California. Federal law gives me the additional tool and ability to reach out and compel companies to provide us that data," she said. "The training I've been given allows me to sort through and make sense of data to build stronger cases against a less-obvious predator."

There have been 153 child porn cases filed in the 46-county Central District since 2008. All have resulted in convictions. Peirson has prosecuted 56 of those since 2009 from her Urbana office, which covers 11 East Central Illinois counties.

By comparison, 14 child porn cases have been filed in Champaign County Circuit Court since 2009.

"It's rare that we have defendants sentenced to less than 60 months (in prison). Part of it is because in evaluating a case we are going to charge, we look for offenses that meet a mandatory minimum of five years. Receipt and distribution are the threshold. We don't normally charge possession only, unless there are other circumstances like being a hands-on offender and the state couldn't prove it," she said.

Additionally, the federal authorities have a more refined charging scale based on the content of the pornography than the state of Illinois does, which gives them more options for punishment.

Catching fish in a barrel

Urbana police Sgt. Dan Morgan and Champaign police Detective Pat Kelly, a member of his department's high-tech crimes unit, said police have software that allows them to see who is downloading pornography.

"We're trolling for these guys all the time," Kelly said. "We have tools we can use that are online constantly looking for people actively trading child porn."

Morgan estimated that at any one time, there are as many as 100 people in Champaign County "actively downloading" child pornography. Once police suspect the pictures are of children — graphic titles with common names on files are usually the tip-off — they check the IP — Internet Protocol — address of the downloader to determine his identity.

"We'll check to see if someone is a known sex offender. That will bump them up on the list. We check and if there are little kids and Big Wheels in the backyard, that's going to mean more than strictly volume," he said, referring to another factor police consider when pursuing an investigation.

Morgan and Peirson said studies based on interviews of convicted child pornographers show that anywhere from 50 to 85 percent have also sexually molested children.

"Some people believe (molesters) start with child porn and move on but research tells us the opposite. The porn allows them to relive a prior fantasy or incident," Peirson said. "In about 75 percent of the cases we've prosecuted here, we have uncovered evidence that the perpetrator committed a hands-on offense some time."

Kleppin said almost all the sex molesters he counsels have viewed pornography.

Police say the men they refer for prosecution are not merely looking once in a while.

"We're finding hundreds and hundreds of searches, hundreds to thousands of downloaded files," Morgan said.

"I don't get somebody who has one or two pictures that they've deleted," Peirson added. "These are people who have several thousand movies and pictures. They are committed collectors. Those are my customers."

Morgan said of the people his department has arrested, the common thread is that they have "gone way over the top with accessing porn in general," reminding that adult pornography is legal.

And pornography, he said, generally produces an endorphin release in the brain that brings pleasure to the viewer.

"The guys will tell you the problem is that to maintain the high, it's got to get weirder and weirder so they will cross boundaries," he said, referring to the violent images of children depicted.

Any fix for porn addiction?

Kleppin said most normal people engage in sex to enhance an already good mood, while sex offenders and porn viewers turn to sexual activity when they're feeling bad.

"My life is out of control. I feel terrible, guilty, lousy and I have no other skill to make me feel better. So when I get online and look at porn, my brain gets triggered because of the endorphic release. And that's if I just look. Heaven forbid if I look and masturbate. Then I just increase the dosage," he said.

Like alcoholics or drug addicts, Kleppin said, there is no cure for porn addicts.

"When it comes to sexual disorder or porn addiction, the brain gets conditioned for this. The brain either came hard-wired that way or during the course of life it got rewired. Once there, you're not going to turn off the desire. You're going to have to remove certain factors that put me in a position to have the urge and also be able to develop the tactics to deal with the urge when it's there," he said.

Kleppin said it's difficult to break through the denial and rationalization often present in child pornographers.

Once admitting they looked, Kleppin said, they move on to: "'I wanted to do it, but it didn't hurt anybody.' Then you have to break through that. 'I didn't take the pictures.'"

Kleppin asks convicted sex offenders how they feel about their pictures being posted on Internet registries that can be accessed worldwide.

"Nobody feels good about being on the registry. They talk about feeling guilty, ashamed. Then I say, 'Think about the child who wonders, with every room he walks in, who has seen my picture?' Then the guy starts to understand, 'I've hurt people.'"

Victimless crime?

U.S. District Court Judge Michael McCuskey said he's presided over about eight child porn trials in Urbana in the last three years and sentenced many more men who have pleaded guilty.

Potential jurors assume they'll see teen-age girls in provocative poses. More often they're seeing infants and toddlers being raped by adults, objects or animals, he said.

"I never had a clue. I'm probably a judge 20 years before I realized what's going on," McCuskey said of the violent images.

"I thought these were people taken from Russia or Eastern Europe. There was a case in Peoria where Mom and Dad were streaming to people on the Internet who paid monthly fees to watch it live. Mom ran the camera and Dad did the sexual act with a 4- or 5-year-old girl while people paid to see it live," he said.

Peirson said she's seen court reporters leave the courtroom "and never come back."

"We've had jurors getting physically ill," she said. "The jury needs to see about two seconds of this stuff and they're done."

The prosecutor rejects any notion that child pornography is a victimless crime just because the viewer may not know the subject he's viewing or is viewing it in the privacy of his own home.

She said there is a young woman from the "Vicky series" who is seeking restitution for future therapy.

"Her images are so popular that every single day there are hundreds of hits on her name. She walks down the street and every time she sees somebody look at her weird or do a double take, she wonders if they are looking at her that way because they've seen her images on the Internet. How horrible as a 19-year-old to think: 'Do they recognize me from when I was 10 and doing this with my dad?'

"Now those images are old classics in child porn and (child porn addicts) need more and more material. Because of that more and more kids are being abused," Peirson said.

Warning labels

Urbana attorney Steve Beckett has been a criminal defense lawyer more than 30 years and has defended several adult bookstores, child molesters and possessors of child pornography in headline-grabbing cases.

He said no one would disagree that child pornography is awful but said the Department of Justice should invest in a campaign to warn the curious.

"What we ought to be doing is stopping people from looking at it. We ought to be sending the message: 'Don't be stupid. Don't get your pornography on the Internet,'" he said.

"People get on the computer and it becomes a fantasy world to them, especially if they're in any way introverted. It's a way to other nations, other ways of life. But if you make stupid choices, you can end up in serious trouble."

"There are no warning labels on any computer I've ever bought," he said.

"I'm not being critical of law enforcement whatsoever. Get this stuff off the Internet and encourage the American population to not look at it. Not only is it morally bad, the legal risks are just not worth it."

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rsp wrote on April 01, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Very well written. But to Steve, warn the curious? Do you really think it's ever a matter of just curiosity?

fedupwithit wrote on April 01, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I agree, very well done Mary. Also Tim, Dan, Federal Prosecutors, State Prosecutors, aand anyone else working to rid the world of these low life waste of oxygen, keep fighting the good fight.

wayward wrote on April 01, 2012 at 8:04 pm

There have also been a number of pedophiles using social networks to find like-minded people and trade material.  There were a number of blatant ones on Facebook 1-2 years ago, and the attitudes and behavior were horrifying.  (To give Facebook credit, they've since gotten better at detecting and reporting predators.)

Below are links to blog entries documenting some pedophiles in action.  For obvious reasons, there are no illegal images, but their words are bad enough.

Does Mr. Beckett seriously believe that a warning label on a computer would have deterred some of those people?  To be fair, there may be an occasional case where someone downloads a large number of files from an open P2P system, doesn't realize what some of them are, and then gets arrested for distribution when his computer shares them.  But most of them seem to know exactly what they're doing.

justmwa wrote on April 02, 2012 at 10:04 am

Well... it looks like N-G removed Maddy's insightful reply to you Wayward, before i could comment. That's prolly a good thing. People like her & "Proud Mom" want to bash on Law Enforcement and citizens appalled by such acts, until they need their help themselves. Keep up the good fight U.P.D and thanks Wayward for exercising your First Amendment rights.

PROUDMOM2 wrote on April 02, 2012 at 2:04 pm

EXCEPT....I am JUST as appalled as you justmwa... The difference between us is that I have educated myself on the ENTIRE subject and not just what works for ME!!!!

I bash Law enforcement because I have the insight having 6 years of education in this area and having worked along side both police and judiciary. I have the benefit of knowing things that the general public are kept ignorant to. Do you?????

And like sex offenders not all politicians, judges and police are the same. Some see the errors and try to fix them but people who buy into the hysteria make it harder for them to protect our kids.

The fight here is to implement laws that actually work!!!! Some states are already ahead of the hysteria and starting to realize that what is in place now DOES NOT WORK  and DOES NOT PROTECT OUR CHILDREN because the numbers of registered sex offenders---96%ish of whom are first time offenders for offenses that should not be considered a sex offense. We are using precious resources to persecute young men who are no threat to any level of society let alone children for political personal gain.

I am a mother and a grandmother and I want my children protected by laws and lawmakers who want the same thing not ones who are out to sensationalize for benefit of their careers. If they wanted to protect children they would shut down child pornography sites as soon as they are discovered not wait 4 years and then shut it down for music download violations like limewire was.

rsp wrote on April 02, 2012 at 9:04 pm

I could see getting irate if this story was about someone who was overcharged. But it's not, it's about  HIGH RISK offenders being dealt with by the local system and the hard work they put into ensuring they have a solid case. Clearly you are blinded by a personal case if you're going after the local law force for not taking down limewire. There is a time and place for everything. Maybe this isn't the place.

wayward wrote on April 02, 2012 at 11:04 pm

First, Limewire is a P2P client program, not a website.

Second, claiming "If they wanted to protect children they would shut down child pornography sites as soon as they are discovered" doesn't make any sense.  Child pornography is located all over the world.  Some countries will do something about it, and others won't.  Even in a country with strict laws about child pornography, there are a number of things that tech-savvy pedophiles do to make it hard for law enforcement to catch them.

PROUDMOM2 wrote on April 02, 2012 at 2:04 pm

PS... Those First Ammendment rights you refer to work both ways. that was the reason they used for NOT shutting down limewire child pornography and to promote sexual images of children in advertising and programming..............

wayward wrote on April 02, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Thanks.  Somewhat morbidly curious what Maddy said, but might have been just as well that I didn't have a chance to respond.

PROUDMOM2 wrote on April 02, 2012 at 8:04 am

First fact: I do not believe this subject matter is or should be acceptable. We should all be appalled but FACTS should prevail in dealing with it not HYSTERIA.

Rep. Rodney Schad of Missouri said it best "many of them are people who are guilty of nothing more than being “young, dumb, and stupid.” and “Over the years, things keep getting added and added, and it’s out of control,” said McCulloch, who heads the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

I am appalled that the American people will accept the hysteria regarding this subject as fact. Every single one of these people have jobs to protect and that is what they are doing by creating public hysteria based upon emotions and NOT FACTS so they can keep their jobs and justify their bottom llines.

If someone accused of viewing child pornography ever made the statement Urbana police Detective Tim McNaught said "he sometimes has a hard time shutting down the computer" they would be considered a threat to public safety. Seems to me these guys just enjoy viewing the stuff themselves based upon their comment. My point here is that any comments made cannot be taken at face value.

So lets get down to the FACTS: Almost every case of child pornography is in FACT a young male, usually downloaded as a teen in search of sexual identity. There is a reason that anyone under the age of 18 cannot commit to a contract or drink or dozens of other things. They are considered incapable of making competent choices...well of course except under the child pornography laws. Children as young as 12 years old are being placed on the sex offender registry. In effect giving them NO opportunity to become a contributing member of society. If the reasoning behind these laws is to protect even ONE child, WHAT ABOUT THESE CHILDREN? or the children of the men on the registry who suffer the consequences forced upon them by the registry like Amber who on September 18, 2009 took her own life because of the persecution SHE endured as collatteral damge of her father being publicly listed on the registry.  

Most are not found and prosecuted until years later so the governemnt entities can bulk up their stats for re-election or job security. Because in truth, if they want to protect children they would have shut down lime wire where almost all child pornography came from. But they didn't. They knew it was there and left it up and running for over 4 years before shutting it down, not for child pornography, but for music download violations. So where was their interest in protecting children then?????? Because there was no creating public hysteria and collecting votes and padding thier bottom lines.

FACT based upon solid, independent, no personal interest research: Child pornography is not a gateway to other sex crimes. If you follow that same mentality then anyone who drinks is an alcoholic, anyone who reads murder mysteries WILL commit a murder. The brain can become conditioned to ANYTHING, not just porn or sex. But, in reality, does everyone who drinks become an alcoholic or everyone who reads a murder mystery commit murder or everyone who views child pornography commit the act? NO. EMPHATICALLY NO!!

Sex offender recidivism is only about 5% not the drastic numbers that are taken out of context in this article for political gain. This % is stable across the entire US. Sex offenders are the second LOWEST recidivists  ("a person is likely to do the same thing again" for those misleading, self serving people quoted in this article) of any other crime other than murder. Which of course debunks Kleppins statement that there is no cure for child pornographers.

And let's for giggles address the quotes of child pornographers used here in this article. In almost 100% of sex offender treatment programs an offender is not offered the opportunity to admit HE IS REQUIRED TO even if he is not guilty (and believe me there are tens of thousands of innocent people in our prisons for every crime not just this---the advent of DNA brought about a great number being vindicated) in order to even be accepted into the treatment program. Just like almost 100% charged with child pornography take plea deals out of fear they admit to whatever they think they are supposed to say becasue they are required to.

Another big question would be that if child porn leads to committing the act then pornography leads to child pornography. If we accept that menatlity then why are Playboy, hustler, strip clubs, prostitution, Toddler's and Tiaras, 16 and Pregnant, Beevis and Butthead, and just about every advertisement that is sex oriented allowed to be disseminated? The American government has politically authorized it's disseminaton and in fact endorsed it so why are we amazed that we are where we are as a country?

This country has so distorted the Constitution and the rationale behind the sepoaration of church and state that we are actually perpetuating these behaviors by removing the moral standards of value this country was founded on by the Puritans. The church was run by the government which is the impetus behind the separation of church and state rationale and not that they cannot co-exist as the laws today perpetuate.

The government removes christianity from it's laws and then wonders why it's citizens behave the way they do.

This topic shuts people down like no other and for good reason but it is being handled inappropriatel

As for my personal opinion, this type of material should not be allowed. It is morally wrong. As for the LEGAL PERSECUTION, Matthew 7:5 says it best "Hypocrite! (Politicians and  police with self serving agendas) First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye"




rsp wrote on April 02, 2012 at 11:04 am

I don't know, I frequently have a hard time shutting off my computer, maybe I'm a danger to society. Researching family history can be fascinating. But what can you do. I know a sex offender. He's in his 40's, with kids. He put his children in that position. He voluntarily pled guilty to possessing 100s of images and videos of horrific acts against children. No system is perfect. But you seem to want to throw the whole thing out instead of maybe making it better. And then what happens to all those kids in the pictures, some of whom are the children of offenders? Let them wait until their abusers decide they may need treatment?

wayward wrote on April 02, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Can you provide any kind of proof for the assertions that you repeatedly label "FACTS?"  I took a look at the Schad quote you cited.  The news story included stuff like urinating in public as examples of things that should not be considered sex offenses, and did not mention child pornography.

First, let's consider the unpleasant topic of how child pornography is produced.  It involves a real child being exploited and often badly hurt.  Obviously, a murder mystery does not require the killing of a real person.

Second, child pornography collectors generally want more, which creates a demand for new material.  If you read some of the news stories about child pornography charges, they don't say, "John Q Public was charged with looking at an indecent image of a child."  It'd be more typical for a defendant to get caught with hundreds of illegal images or videos.  Some experts believe that this demand for more has contributed to a trend towards worse stuff with younger children.

Third, child pornography revictimizes the child.  Victims have talked about how it's upsetting to them that people are continuing to download and get off on the material.