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.
In 2012, fifty year-old Peter K. Lindsley was sentenced to 114 months in prison in Texas for distribution of child pornography. An examination of his computer yielded 68,000 explicit images, the majority of which included infants.
According to Ryan C. W. Hall, MD, and Richard C. W. Hall, MD in their 2007 article, “A Profile of Pedophilia: “Studies and case reports indicate that 30 to 80 percent of individuals who viewed child pornography and 76 percent of individuals who were arrested for Internet child pornography had molested a child.”
Victims of child pornography are subjected to a continuous cycle of abuse, and as each image is viewed, their innocence is stolen all over again. The Supreme Court recently ruled that victims are entitled to restitution from anyone who possesses an image of them that meets the criteria for child pornography. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter have agreed to form a database of the most horrendous images of child abuse. The database would be in the hands of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, the charity founded by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.
Google is also pioneering technology to “fingerprint” images of child pornography so they can be tracked across the web without having to view them. The United States Department of Justice Child Obscenity and Exploitation Section (CEOS) fights the war against child pornography in conjunction with the FBI and States Attorney’s Offices around the country. They are aided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other organizations that tirelessly try to stop this plague from consuming another child’s innocence.
If you suspect a child is being victimized or find any form of child pornography please call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Cyber Tip line at 1-800-843-5678. If we all work together we can save the next child from a lifetime of pain and suffering.
I have finally found happiness and I thank God for my wife and family and for giving me the strength to heal and reclaim the childhood that was so ruthlessly stolen from me.