The problem of child pornography has reached crisis levels. In all corners of the internet, images of child sexual abuse are being created, produced, and traded. Last year, more than 45 million online images and videos of child sexual abuse material were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The pain inflicted on these children is unimaginable. The details are sickening: an increasing number of the images are of infants and children younger than 12 enduring the most serious forms of sexual torture.
Tragically, the U.S. government’s work to stop the spread of this vile content and bring perpetrators to justice is falling short. It is imperative we address this problem, wherever it exists.
Vast network hides horrific crimes
Abusers go to just about any lengths to evade the law. They have built a vast online underworld to hide their crimes. It’s happening on a range of platforms and networks – including the government entity we most associate with security and protection: the Department of Defense.
In 2018, the Department of Defense’s network was ranked 19th out of almost 3,000 nationwide networks in the amount of peer-to-peer child pornography sharing. The ranking is shocking. But it’s not entirely unexpected.
A 2006 investigation carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement found that 5,000 individuals – including hundreds affiliated with the Department of Defense – subscribed to websites that contain child sexual abuse images and videos. Out of those 5,000 people, 80 percent of them were not investigated because the military lacked the resources needed to follow up on leads.
In 2018, the Department of Defense's network was ranked 19th out of almost 3,000 nationwide networks in the amount of peer-to-peer child pornography sharing. (Photo: Getty Images)
The tools and training the military currently uses are outdated and ineffective. They don’t meet the scope and scale of the problem at hand. Military investigators have requested and must have access to state of the art training and technical capabilities so they are better equipped to take action and put perpetrators exactly where they belong: behind bars.
Law will help military fight abuse
To address the gap in capacity, we introduced the END Network Abuse Act. The bipartisan and bicameral bill would give our military leaders the tools they need to get rid of child pornography on the Department of Defense’s network, go after offenders, and protect innocent and vulnerable children. And our colleagues have recognized the importance of this, by including a version of the bill in the final annual defense bill, which passed the Senate this week.
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Once enacted, the law will upgrade the training and technical capacity of military criminal investigative organizations. It will direct the Department of Defense to coordinate on jurisdictional issues so cases are referred to the proper authorities. The department also will be required to enter into collaborative agreements with child protection organizations and trauma informed health care providers to ensure that kids who are victimized receive the services they need.
This is a nationwide issue. But for states like Alaska and Hawaii with both significant Department of Defense footprints and large indigenous populations, which have been shown to be disproportionately affected by child sexual exploitation, addressing these gaps is particularly important in stopping cycles of abuse.
A broad coalition of advocates – law enforcement, child protection services and public health organizations – back the measure. Even the Department of Defense expressed its full support for our bill.
This effort to protect our families gained support from both sides of the aisle. Conservatives, liberals – folks from red states and blue states – signaled with their votes Congress’ commitment to combating child exploitation.
Together, we will bring offenders to justice, and we will protect more children. There is no more sacred charge.
Sen. Brian Schatz is a Democrat from Hawaii. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is a Republican from Alaska.
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