Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Jerome Elam.
Behind the green curtain is where my world began to end. It was where my innocence was forever washed away in a porcelain pan filled with developer. Grainy images brought into strong relief on white paper that would become forever etched on my soul.
It all began at the age of eight when my mother enrolled me in an after school program. My parents were divorced at that time, both with demanding careers, and the time we spent together was subject to the requirements of their jobs. An after school counselor began to take a close interest in me, teaching me how to throw a football and providing the attention I so desperately craved.
Hugs turned into long embraces, and soon the counselor began to compliment me on my body. Not long after that the sexual abuse began.
I became trapped in the web of a pedophile that used psychological blackmail to cocoon my young mind in fear. He would drive me into the mountains and ask me to take my clothes off as he took photographs. Later, as he stirred the fruits of his evil intent inside a white pan, he held the image up and as smiled at me as he said, “Wouldn’t your mom like a copy of this? ”
It has been over 60 years since that day and still the painful memory of the man who stole my innocence haunts me. It became the secret that quietly devoured every moment of happiness that occurred in my life and the burden I would bear to protect my parents. I was terrified that if they found out about the pictures it would devastate them. I blamed myself and internalized anger that no child should ever experience.
That bottled up cache of emotion would release itself at points in my life. As a boy I remember smashing my bike with a hammer when the chain came off, and as an adult taking a sledgehammer to a 1965 Oldsmobile at my father’s ranch when the battery died. As I hammered away I saw only the face of my abuser, and I cried for the wounded child within me who would never know happiness.
The advent of the Internet has created the unwanted side affect of an explosion of child pornography. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that, “State and local law enforcement agencies involved in Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces reported a 230 percent increase in the number of documented complaints of online enticement of children from 2004 to 2008.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Child Victim Identification Program was created in 2002. As of December of 2013 it has received 2.2 million reports of suspected sexual exploitation and researched 104 million videos and images depicting child pornography.