Child porn a growing Internet problem | AspenTimes.com

Child porn a growing Internet problem

Joel Stonington
Aspen, CO Colorado

PITKIN COUNTY ” Despite the U.S. Department of Justice’s claim that the Internet has resulted in an “explosion” of child pornography images, local cases appear to be quite rare.

So rare, in fact, that Pitkin County Assistant District Attorney Gail Nichols needed aid from the state when she prosecuted former Aspen drama teacher Bradford Moore. Moore, 49, pleaded guilty last Wednesday to misdemeanor sexual exploitation of a child.

Moore, who was arrested in November 2006 and was scheduled to stand trial on Dec. 4, was accused of having more than 100 images of child pornography on his home computer. Nichols said she required assistance from a state computer forensics laboratory just to retrieve the images on Moore’s computer.

Most of these cases, such as the one against Moore, typically used to be handled by federal prosecutors, but that has changed with the advent of the Internet. While the U.S. Postal Service was a key agency because child pornography was trafficked through the mail, its role has diminished because of technological advances, Nichols noted.

The Department of Justice claims child pornography essentially was eradicated in the U.S. during the early 1980s, but the Internet has resulted in an “explosion” in the availability and accessibility of child pornography. The high number of illegal photos and videos available online have led to a higher number of convictions nationally on child pornography charges, the justice department reports.

The technology also represents a hurdle in gaining a conviction in many of the cases. For example, one issue in Moore’s case was over the identity of the children. The defense suggested that some of the images may have been computer generated, but Nichols said she gathered information on the identities of the alleged children in the photos, sometimes just first names, from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

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The center has reviewed millions of images and positively identified and found 1,200 children who were victims of child pornography. John Shehan, the deputy director of the exploited child division of NCMEC, said thousands more children have been identified but not found.

Last year, NCMEC’s anonymous tip line received more than 76,000 reports of child exploitation, with more than 62,000 regarding child pornography.

“Quite often, the same images are traded day in and day out,” Shehan said. “We’re looking for clues about where the children may be. These are real children though sometimes the defense says the images were morphed. Think about the pictures they’re taking. This isn’t a victimless crime. Every time that image is traded, the child is victimized.”

When NCMEC finds actual evidence that could lead to arrest, it works with law-enforcement groups such as the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in Colorado. But tracking down buyers and sellers of child pornography is not always a simple process.

“It is an international problem and it is growing,” said Sgt. Bill Dehart, commander of the task force. “The images are ubiquitous. It’s like trying to squeeze sand. The harder you squeeze the more it seeps through your fingers. Investigators are doing a great job trying to combat this but it’s an uphill battle.”

Moore, meanwhile, originally faced the felony charge of sexual exploitation of a child, but that charge was dropped as part of a plea agreement.

The felony charge carried penalties of two to six years in prison and a fine of $2,000 to $500,000. Moore is now looking at a maximum of 18 months in jail and fines of up to $5,400.

Prosecutor Nichols said it is unlikely Moore would have been sentenced to any jail time even if the case had gone to trial.

“This resolution probably would have been appropriate even if he had gone to trial,” Nichols said. “It was very fair.”

Moore, who still lives in the area and remains involved with Aspen Community Theatre, did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com.