The problem of child sexual abuse imagery faces a particular hurdle: It gets scant attention because few people want to confront the enormity and horror of the content, or they wrongly dismiss it as primarily teenagers sending inappropriate selfies.
Some state lawmakers, judges and members of Congress have refused to discuss the problem in detail, or have avoided attending meetings and hearings when it was on the agenda, according to interviews with law enforcement officials and victims.
Steven J. Grocki, who leads a group of policy experts and lawyers at the child exploitation section of the Justice Department, said the reluctance to address the issue went beyond elected officials and was a societal problem. “They turn away from it because it’s too ugly of a mirror,” he said.
Yet the material is everywhere, and ever more available.
“I think that people were always there, but the access is so easy,” said Lt. John Pizzuro, a task force commander in New Jersey. “You got nine million people in the state of New Jersey. Based upon statistics, we can probably arrest 400,000 people.”
Common language about the abuse can also minimize the harm in people’s minds. While the imagery is often defined as “child pornography” in state and federal laws, experts prefer terms like child sexual abuse imagery or child exploitation material to underscore the seriousness of the crimes and to avoid conflating it with adult pornography, which is legal for people over 18.
“Each and every image is a depiction of a crime in progress,” said Sgt. Jeff Swanson, a task force commander in Kansas. “The violence inflicted on these kids is unimaginable.”