Porn Penalty Problems: A WAFF 48 News Special Report - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Porn Penalty Problems: A WAFF 48 News Special Report

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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Among victims of child pornography, Alicia Kozakiewicz stands out for her willingness to speak out publicly about the damage wreaked by this crime some perpetrators still try to portray as "victimless."

"It was so painful," Kozakiewicz recalled recently, "It's incredibly hard to have to live with something like that in your past."

At the age of 14, Kozakiewicz was, as she puts it, "groomed" by an online predator, then kidnapped and assaulted for weeks. She was tracked down and rescued from her tormenter's basement and didn't realize her abuse had been videotaped and posted online until an excruciating follow up. 

"The FBI had come to my house and they had to have me identify myself in a video," she said.

Tracking child pornography producers, and collectors, has become a daunting task for law enforcement in Alabama, state, federal and local alike.

The May arrests of Jon Daniel Bridges and Ray Taylor in Madison County on charges including child pornography are only two of the most recent cases. Justice Department Deputy Chief U.S. Attorney Daniel Fortune specializes in child exploitation and his caseload in the state has increased 30 percent in the past five years. By his assessment, "It's definitely getting worse."

"When I first started doing child exploitation in 2002 to 2003," he said, "you didn't see as many infants and children under the age of six being molested and raped. Whereas now it seems a lot of the individuals that we're prosecuting have children under the age of six years old being exploited."

In North Alabama in particular, the analysis from the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville revolves around one four-letter word, "more."

"More than we know," said Advocacy Center Executive Director Chris Newlin. "Significantly more than we would suspect and dramatically more than we see." 

A new report on child pornography from the U.S. Sentencing Commission cautions that the law enforcement fight against child pornography must catch up with the times. It says the justice system has become bogged down and inconsistent in prosecuting and punishing child pornography suspects.   The Commission complains that prosecutors today often take widely disparate approaches to child porn cases because so many of them now include what were once considered extraordinary aggravating factors such as use of a computer or the accumulation of large collections of images or videos. In this age of high speed internet access and faster computers, those factors now apply to almost all "non-production" child porn suspects.

The exploding volume of material collectors and producers accumulate has become a challenge for investigators with agencies such as the ABI, FBI and ICE who report seizing child porn collections that run in the terabytes. A terabyte is a thousand gigabytes and a full length theatrical movie file is often fewer than two gigabytes.

"Thousands of movies," said A.B.I. child porn investigator Thomas Whitten, "thousands and thousands and thousands. We got one the other day. He had 10,000 videos and several thousand images."

And as the volume has gone up, the ages of the visible victims have gone down.

"In the last year," Whitten said, "I've seen an increase in prepubescent child pornography to now being toddler child pornography to baby child pornography. You get a lot of rape terminology in the file names. The bondage, some of them with torture.  At least once a month I come across something so new, so shocking, that it disturbs me. I've got four kids of my own."

Whitten and observers at the U.S. Justice Department offer qualified support for the Sentencing Commission's call for greater sophistication, strongly qualified. A March 5 Justice response to the Commission's analysis endorses greater attention to the actual danger of particular defendants and the severity of particular pieces of pornography, but vigorously flags the notion of milder sentences for "non-production" offenders.

Fortune offered his clarification:  "Any sort of suggestion to remove the five year statutory minimum for receipt or distribution is definitely something we don't think is appropriate. We think Congress got it exactly right."

Kozakiewicz also rejected the notion that there's fundamentally less harm done by those who are "just" watching.

"You often hear people who are only collecting it say it's a victimless crime.  It's not," she cautioned, "because it's calling for a demand for more children.  So often, to be a part of an online group that does share child pornography; you have to also contribute your own. It's calling for more children to be hurt."

Now 25, Kozakiewicz speaks out via her Alicia Project campaign online, and in personal appearances, she seeks to warn young people and lobbies for new laws to fight child predators.

Looking back, she also notes a bizarre irony of her own rescue. It was her own appearance in one of those online child pornography groups that led the FBI to her. 

"The twisted side of this is that is how I was rescued because he did broadcast this and somebody did see it," she said. "So it took one monster calling about another that actually rescued me." 

At the National Children's Advocacy Center, Newlin said child advocates wrestle with the question of whether the steady rise in known child porn cases reflects a worsening problem, or simply an improving awareness of a problem.

There are, he said, only so many pedophiles in the population.  So, "Do we know about 2 percent? Do we know about 7 percent? There's no way to know about that which you don't know."

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