Child pornography - don't think you won't be caught

  • Published
  • By Capt. Bryan Warnock
  • 82nd Training Wing Law Center
It's no understatement to say that the Internet changed American life in the late 20th century.

The World Wide Web changed work, entertainment, communication, education, etc., arguably all for the better. However, along with the good came the bad, and there is plenty of the bad in cyberspace.

Household Internet connections have exposed American homes and businesses to plagues of fraud, computer viruses and a variety of obscene materials once available only to those willing to pay for them. Now with a few key strokes, anyone can find just about anything online, including a vast collection of child pornography.

In the 1970s and 1980s, law enforcement nearly eradicated child pornography in the United States. During those decades, child pornography became increasingly difficult to find and was usually only available among a small community of collectors.

Then in the 1990s, those collecting and producing child pornography went online. Now child pornography is unfortunately accessible through every desktop computer with an Internet connection.

To those who are tempted to search out this material and to those who view or collect it: beware.

Society at large takes a very dim view of individuals who exploit children. For that reason, our U.S. Congress has enacted federal laws that harshly punish the possession, production and distribution of child pornography. Likewise, these crimes are punishable under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Make no mistake. Child pornography destroys the lives of everyone it touches.

Child pornography convictions in federal court carry a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment. Convictions in Air Force courts routinely result in lengthy confinement and punitive discharge or dismissal.

Recently an Air Force lieutenant and a chief master sergeant stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., were convicted of possession of child pornography in federal district court, and each was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

Texas and many other states also require that those convicted of possessing child pornography register as sex offenders. Sex offender registration laws can severely limit future employment opportunities and can even dictate where an offender can live.

The FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations aggressively investigate child pornography cases. When the FBI takes down an Internet site found trafficking child pornography, the agents can often trace distributions of pornography to individual computers and their owners. A variety of forensic computer programs further enhance agents' ability to root out child pornographers.

Law enforcement will use increasingly sophisticated tools in its efforts to again eradicate child pornography and punish those who exploit the vulnerable.

There is no safe harbor.