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New Mexico faces an explosion in child pornography

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

In August 2014, the FBI learned that a 12-year-old Seattle boy had used a cellphone to send pornographic images of himself to someone in an online chat room who went by the user name “jowilli.”

Through subpoenas served on the chat room and an email service provider, the FBI concluded that jowilli was Joshua A. Williams, a junior college cadet at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell.

Williams’ cellphone and computer were seized, and the FBI says the devices contained more than 100 videos and still images of child porn, including some featuring toddlers.

An examination of Williams’ computer also found videos of him sodomizing a boy, according to the FBI.

Stories like that of jowilli are common. Once nearly eradicated in this country, child pornography has exploded over the Internet, and some in law enforcement say New Mexico is considered by child pornographers to be a good place to set up shop because of weak penalties.

Anthony Maez heads the state attorney general's Internet Crimes Against Children Unit and the New Mexico Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The task force has seven labs around the state, including this one in Albuquerque. (Adophe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Anthony Maez heads the state attorney general’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit and the New Mexico Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The task force has seven labs around the state, including this one in Albuquerque. (Adophe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Special Agent in Charge Anthony Maez, who heads the state attorney general’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit and the New Mexico Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, estimates that one out of three people arrested on child porn charges has either sexually abused a child or is thinking about it.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says law enforcement has identified more than 9,600 child victims of pornography worldwide by name but, according to one estimate, 5 million children have been victimized.

“It is overwhelming,” Maez says. “We look at the priority cases first.”

Some cases, he says, involve thousands of depictions of child sex abuse.

New trends in child porn include an increase in the number of videos, a jump in the number of images depicting sadistic and violent sex abuse, a spike in the number of online trading networks and an increase in the number of images depicting the very young, including infants and toddlers.

Maez says the problem of child porn is worse in New Mexico than in most states, because of a law that limits the extent of prosecution. Under a state Supreme Court ruling in 2014, an individual can be charged with only a single count of child porn possession, even if the individual possessed hundreds or thousands of images. Some other states allow a charge for each depiction.

Legislation that would allow prosecutors to charge an individual for each image passed the state House of Representatives unanimously in March, but died in the Senate Public Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque.

The legislation was sponsored by Republican Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes of Albuquerque and backed by Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas, who says he will try again to get the measure approved when the Legislature meets in January.

Maez says law enforcement has picked up chatter on the Internet about New Mexico’s porn law, and he says child porn traffickers are moving here because of it.

“These individuals know New Mexico is more lenient than other states,” he says. “So the consequences don’t outweigh the crime.”

Ex-cadet charged

Although advanced digital technology has led to an explosion in the sharing of child porn across the nation and worldwide, law enforcement is using that same technology to track down those who traffic in the videos and still images.

Following trails of computer footprints left by child porn traffickers, law enforcement also uncovers child sexual abuse that might otherwise not have come to the attention of authorities.

“It does help us identify these individuals,” Maez says.

Williams, a 20-year-old former NMMI cadet from Lakeside, Calif., was arrested this month in California on federal charges of distributing, possessing and attempting to produce child pornography. He hasn’t entered a plea to the charges, according to court records.

Any child sex abuse charges will have to be brought by state authorities.

Special Agent Jay Ratliff is one of three forensic examiners in the state Attorney General's Office who inspect seized digital devices for evidence of child pornography and download videos and images for prosecutors. At right, data are downloaded from the hard drive of a gaming station. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Special Agent Jay Ratliff is one of three forensic examiners in the state Attorney General’s Office who inspect seized digital devices for evidence of child pornography and download videos and images for prosecutors. At right, data are downloaded from the hard drive of a gaming station. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

More cases

The U.S. Justice Department says trafficking in child porn within the United States had been almost wiped out by the mid-1980s due to law enforcement efforts.

“Unfortunately, the child pornography market exploded in the advent of the Internet and advanced digital technology,” the department says on its website. “The Internet provides ground for individuals to create, access and share child sexual abuse images worldwide at the click of a button. Child pornography images are readily available through virtually every Internet technology.”

The state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force was formed about a decade ago and has more than 80 affiliated law enforcement agencies and other organizations. Federal funds pay for training and equipment. The task force has seven labs across the state where seized digital devices are examined for child porn.

The state AG’s Office also has an Internet Crimes Against Children Unit and houses one of the labs. The unit has five investigators – soon to be seven – and three forensic examiners to inspect digital devices.

Maez says the task force receives most of its tips from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Internet service providers are required by federal law to notify the center’s Cyber Tipline if they learn of an apparent violation of federal child pornography laws.

The center says it has received more than 4.3 million tips since 1998. It says it reviewed 22 million still images and videos of suspected child sex abuse as part of its victim identification program in 2013 – a jump of more than 5,000 percent since 2007.

Anthony Maez, head of the New Mexico Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, has a map in his office showing the locations of more than 80 law enforcement agencies and other organizations that are affiliated with the task force. (Adophe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Anthony Maez, head of the New Mexico Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, has a map in his office showing the locations of more than 80 law enforcement agencies and other organizations that are affiliated with the task force. (Adophe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

In most child porn cases, according to the Justice Department, victimization stretches for months or years.

A department study of federal child porn defendants charged in 2006 showed that 99 percent were men. The defendants were overwhelmingly white, with a median age of 42. More than half had attended college, and 80 percent had no prior felony convictions.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission says most child porn offenders have a sexual interest in children, but research isn’t clear on the prevalence of pedophilia among offenders. The commission says some child porn collectors do so for nonsexual reasons – for example, out of curiosity or dissatisfaction with their lives.

“The recidivism is very high among those types of offenders,” Maez says.

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