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Child Abuse Arrests: What Lies Beneath

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Three local men have been arrested on child pornography charges in the past two weeks, the latest in more than a dozen such cases in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties over the past year and a half.  WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports on the legalities and the mindset regarding child porn.

In separate arrests, Keith Shaffer of Pace, Warren Lindsley of Pensacola and Samuel Yates of Milton are charged with possession of child pornography, which is a third-degree felony. Lindsley is also charged with promoting the sexual performance by a child, which is second-degree.

“Child pornography is defined as any image depicting a minor engaging in sexual conduct,” says Anne Patterson, an Assistant State Attorney who prosecutes such cases in the First Judicial Circuit. Despite the simple definition, Patterson says the statutes outlawing child porn are overlapping and complex.

“One addresses sexual performance of a child, and makes it unlawful to use a child to produce a recording or image of sexual performance,” says Patterson. “Or, to possess such an image with intent to promote it.”

Around 20% of all porn contains participants under the age of 18, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Other provisions are found in Florida’s anti-obscenity statute, which cover the areas of computer-generated images of children engaged in sexual activity. Upon conviction, the penalties include hefty fines and long prison sentences, plus mandatory registration as a sexual offender.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that pornographers have recorded the abuse of more than one million kids in the United States alone.

“The profile generally, for people who view child pornography are people who are stimulated by pre-pubescent children under 13: folks who are not mature looking,” said Dr. David Josephs, Clinical Director at the Lakeview Center in Pensacola.

Josephs says it is possible to become addicted to child porn, as one would get hooked on drugs or alcohol, by frequent exposure that can stimulate the desire to see it repeatedly. The parallel between addiction and child porn, he says, is how to change it and the stages of that transformation.

If someone comes to a mental health professional and admits to being involved with child pornography, is that professional obligated to report it to the authorities?

“If the child porn involves participant actions with children, yes,” Josephs said. “If they’re producing it, yes. If it’s just a matter of ‘I view it on the Internet,’ no.”

Perhaps the larger concern for those involved in child pornography is for the children depicted in the material. Josephs says for many of those kids, those who exploited them were people they trusted. He adds that a delicate form of treatment is necessary, to avoid victimizing them even further. 

Despite the improving technology and other methods of tracking users and images, child porn remains a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the fastest-growing Internet crimes. But prosecutor Ann Patterson says the number of arrests appear to be growing as well.

“I think we can probably attribute that to the greater sophistication of the investigative tools that law enforcement has at its disposal now,” said Patterson. “Going into the Internet and being able to identify these types of images, and then being able to pursue an investigation.”

Anyone receiving a computer file that is suspected to be child porn, authorities say they can report it immediately without fear of reprisal. For advice on keeping your children safe online, visit www.secureflorida.org.