The phenomenon of child sexual abuse images is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. It refers to any kind of depiction of a child engaged in real or simulated sexual activities or depictions that may not be sexually explicit, but involve naked and seductive images of children. International legal standards however, are limited to criminalizing the former. Examples include photos, visual and audio representations and writing, and can be spread through magazines, books, visual art, movies, videotapes, cell phones and computer files. The term “child rape images” is preferred over “child pornography,” because “pornography” implies consent which is missing in the case of children. The term also ignores the seriousness of the phenomenon as a violation of children’s basic rights and the fact that these images are a record of crimes being committed against them.
The advancement of computers and the internet has created an open and easy avenue for child sexual abuse images to be created. Through chat rooms, websites, peer to peer file transfers and other mediums, child sexual abuse images are traded, sold, and/or purchased. According to RCMP statistics, “there are approximately 14 million pornographic websites with some posting about one million child abuse images and between 23,000—40,000 sites advertise chat rooms that defend child-adult sexual relationships.” The use of live web cams for exploiting children over the internet has also become increasingly popular. Also, digital graphics software is making it possible to fuse two images into one, or alter images to create a new one. This is a process called morphing, and can turn non-pornographic images of real children into pornography involving “virtual children.” This has made things more difficult from a law enforcement standpoint, but in Canada, for instance, it is an offence under the Criminal Code to access, distribute, or produce child rape images regardless of whether the image depicts a “real” child.
Child rape images then, exploit children in more ways than one. Children are forced to engage in sexual acts for the production of pornography, and the images/video/audio are passed around, traded, or sold. These depictions of children feed the demand and create the incentive to keep the industry going. Child pornographers also use their products to frighten and blackmail children to keep them silent.
Case and Point: Operation Vico
Christopher Paul Neil, a Canadian national and English teacher in South Korea will be spending the next eight years in a Thai prison, after a pair of convictions found him guilty of sexually exploiting two Thai boys. He had lured young boys from internet cafes to his apartment for sex.
Neil appeared in over 200 photos depicting child sexual exploitation, which appeared on the internet and led to a worldwide search for him, known as Operation Vico. Using digital software, his face was hidden by a digital swirl, but computer experts were able to reconstruct the original pictures.