Sun | Jun 17, 2018

Betty Ann Blaine | When child porn goes viral

Published:Sunday | February 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Betty Ann Blaine

It seems almost oxymoronic that while modern medicine fights to prevent child diseases, the virus of viral media appears to be virtually incurable, and it is our children who are the most vulnerable victims of this widespread contagion.

It took no time at all for the latest child-pornography video that was circulated widely in Jamaica to have gone viral, and I was personally flooded with calls and texts from angry friends and colleagues calling for something to be done to stop its spread.

The disturbing image of a little girl, probably no more than five or six years old, being forced to perform oral sex on an adult male, was just too much to watch, and I was left with a feeling of complete horror and helplessness.

The video had already gone viral, and the nagging questions in my mind were, "How do we stop this? How do we protect children from the dangers of digital technology?"

Interestingly, those same questions are also occupying the minds of parents all over the world.

It didn't matter that Jamaicans were informed the next day that the video in question was purportedly filmed in another country. I don't think that any of us found comfort in recognising the detestable damage this exposure had already done to the young victim, regardless of the place of origin.

The collective consensus is that the issue of cybercrime is complex and difficult to investigate, including those involving children. Experts admit that for predators, the Internet is a new, effective and more anonymous way to seek out and groom children for criminal purposes. Not only can predators access and distribute child-abuse material more easily, they can concurrently come in direct physical contact with children.

 

INTERNET FOR EASIER ACCESS

 

Computers and the Internet have made the predator's job easier. Historically, child predators found their victims in public places where children tend to gather - schoolyards, playgrounds, shopping malls. Today, with so many children online, the Internet is the predator's dream come true.

Child-rights and welfare advocates like myself lament the fact that the Internet provides a source for repeated long-term victimisation that can last for years. Once a child's picture is displayed on the Internet, it can remain there forever. Images can stay on the Internet indefinitely, without damage to the quality of the image.

What is celebrated as the world's 'superhighway' can be a dangerous road for children. Innocent pictures or images of children can be digitally transformed into pornographic material and distributed across the Internet without the victim's knowledge.

Admittedly, child victimisation on the Internet is a Herculean problem. Those fighting it tell us that the biggest challenges are identifying the victims, protecting their privacy, and serving them without further victimisation.

Despite the hurdles, however, small but important strides are being made. In the United Kingdom, the Government recently announced a package of measures to tackle child abuse on the Internet and, specifically, to prevent paedophiles from sharing explicit images of children online.

The technological pushback involves the creation of a database of thousands of known child sex-abuse images. Each of the images will be given a digital fingerprint, or hash value. If anyone tries to share the image on Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, or Yahoo, these companies will automatically detect the "hash value" and block the image. Already, a similar system is already being used by Dropbox, Google and other companies to prevent users from sharing copyright-protected files with other users.

 

CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY

 

As parental and public pressure has increased, so has the Internet giants' sense of corporate and collective responsibility. It is reported that Google and Microsoft are increasing the size of their search term blacklist, and Google has moved to limit search results for suspected child sexual abuse queries. Google claims to have seen a fivefold reduction in the number of searches for child-abuse images since the changes were made.

As for us here in Jamaica, our best chances of fighting the growing cybercrime industry is for our small, under-resourced law-enforcement unit to create and foster good working relationships with regional and global partners.

Interpol provides substantial support for member countries in combating Internet crimes against children, including training and best practices. The agency operates an International Child Sexual Exploitation image database using sophisticated image comparison software to make connections between victims and places. And there are other support systems, including the US government's Child Exploitation Investigations Unit.

Equally important is the need for a simple, yet powerful public-education campaign providing information and safety tips, but also issuing stiff warnings about the illegality of producing and circulating child porn.

For now, I believe the battle to cure the viral virus is best summed up in the words of one expert: "There is no quick fix that will protect victims. The most effective approaches use education, responsible parenting and more resources for enforcing the law."

- Betty Ann Blaine is a child advocate and founder of Hear The Children's Cry and Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and bab2609@yahoo.com.