Child pornography prosecutors: Victims are getting younger, acts are more vile

Child pornography isn’t just more pervasive, it’s getting even uglier.

Federal prosecutors in Detroit say they have witnessed the disturbing trend with the kids getting younger — toddlers and infants as young as 6 months old — turning up in photos and videos.

And the assaults are getting worse. It’s not just still images of children in the nude, they say.

“There’s a misconception in the public arena that these are mainly still images of children without clothes on. Well, the truth is that the majority of the pictures that are traded among these guys almost inevitably involve a child being either raped, or being forced to perform some type of sexual act on an adult or child,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy, chief of the general crimes unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

Bestiality images also are surfacing.

“It’s really horrific,” he said.

Child porn lovers live in your neighborhood

They aren’t just creepy loners.

Crouched on a bench in the federal courthouse in Detroit almost every week, seemingly normal people — doctors, coaches, authors, engineers, teens — are charged with possessing and making child porn, a $3-billion-a-year industry that the federal government has labeled the new silent child abuse.

Outed by their Internet activities, the accused stand before a judge, heads usually hung low, while their families sit in the back of the courtroom aghast at the accusations. And there typically is no criminal history to point to.

“There’s this notion that it’s the creepy neighbor who lives in the basement of his parent’s house and downloads this stuff,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy, chief of the general crimes unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

Far from it, he said.

There’s another misconception about child porn, he added.

“It’s not an eastern European problem, or southeast Asian problem. Half of the child porn traded in this country is made in this country,” he said.

100,000 Web sites

Currently, there are an estimated 100,000 known child porn Web sites, according to Brigham Young University Women’s Services, which also reports that child porn generates $3 billion annually, accounting for one-quarter of the $12-billion U.S. porn industry.

Fueled by the secret nature of the Internet, child porn has increased to the point where the federal government can’t keep track of it all. The Justice Department conceded in a report issued in August that the growth of child porn is outpacing efforts to combat it.

“Tragically, the only place we’ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in August, following the release of the report, which promised to hire 38 prosecutors especially for child porn cases.

The Justice Department report says complaints of online enticement of children have more than tripled from 2004 to 2008, and complaints of child prostitution rose tenfold. Since 2006, more than 8,600 people have been prosecuted at the federal level on child porn charges.

Equally troubling, authorities said, is that not only are the kids getting younger, but the images are getting more graphic and violent. Children can be heard crying in some videos, they said.

What’s driving this trend?

Some legal and psychological experts think it’s the addictive nature of porn and its explosion on the Internet. The more users see, they say, the more they want.

“Normal sex acts don’t excite them anymore,” said Patrick Trueman, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. “Now you’re seeing the really extreme stuff, because once you’ve been through the still shots, that’s not good enough.”

Using social networking

In Michigan, a cyber crimes unit with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security has spotted another disturbing trend in recent months: Some people are using social networking to meet other child molesters. They’re using peer-to-peer networks to molest kids in unison, with a remote audience participating.

For example, ICE agents arrested a 52-year-old Pinckney father last month for allegedly posing his three minor children in a sexually explicit manner during video chat sessions with a man in Texas. The other man did the same with his children. Both men have been charged. The Free Press is not releasing the name of the Michigan father to protect the identity of his children, ages 9, 8 and 5, according to court records.

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    By TRESA BALDAS
    Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
    Steven Demink of Redford is accused of manipulating mothers into molesting their children and letting him view the sex acts.

    Steven Demink of Redford is accused of manipulating mothers into molesting their children and letting him view the sex acts.

    //

    John Belloli, 50, of Dearborn Heights pleaded guilty to drugging a 7-year-old before using her for sex and photographing the acts.

    John Belloli, 50, of Dearborn Heights pleaded guilty to drugging a 7-year-old before using her for sex and photographing the acts.

    //

    Dr. Craig Tubbs, 50, of St. Louis, Mich., a family physician, admitted to having 54 child porn images stored in his e-mail.

    Dr. Craig Tubbs, 50, of St. Louis, Mich., a family physician, admitted to having 54 child porn images stored in his e-mail. / Justice Department photos

    //

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    Child pornography isn’t just more pervasive, it’s getting even uglier.

    Federal prosecutors in Detroit say they have witnessed the disturbing trend with the kids getting younger — toddlers and infants as young as 6 months old — turning up in photos and videos.

    And the assaults are getting worse. It’s not just still images of children in the nude, they say.

    “There’s a misconception in the public arena that these are mainly still images of children without clothes on. Well, the truth is that the majority of the pictures that are traded among these guys almost inevitably involve a child being either raped, or being forced to perform some type of sexual act on an adult or child,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy, chief of the general crimes unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

    Bestiality images also are surfacing.

    “It’s really horrific,” he said.

    Child porn lovers live in your neighborhood

    They aren’t just creepy loners.

    Crouched on a bench in the federal courthouse in Detroit almost every week, seemingly normal people — doctors, coaches, authors, engineers, teens — are charged with possessing and making child porn, a $3-billion-a-year industry that the federal government has labeled the new silent child abuse.

    Outed by their Internet activities, the accused stand before a judge, heads usually hung low, while their families sit in the back of the courtroom aghast at the accusations. And there typically is no criminal history to point to.

    “There’s this notion that it’s the creepy neighbor who lives in the basement of his parent’s house and downloads this stuff,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy, chief of the general crimes unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

    Far from it, he said.

    There’s another misconception about child porn, he added.

    “It’s not an eastern European problem, or southeast Asian problem. Half of the child porn traded in this country is made in this country,” he said.

    100,000 Web sites

    Currently, there are an estimated 100,000 known child porn Web sites, according to Brigham Young University Women’s Services, which also reports that child porn generates $3 billion annually, accounting for one-quarter of the $12-billion U.S. porn industry.

    (Page 2 of 3)

    Fueled by the secret nature of the Internet, child porn has increased to the point where the federal government can’t keep track of it all. The Justice Department conceded in a report issued in August that the growth of child porn is outpacing efforts to combat it.

    “Tragically, the only place we’ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in August, following the release of the report, which promised to hire 38 prosecutors especially for child porn cases.

    The Justice Department report says complaints of online enticement of children have more than tripled from 2004 to 2008, and complaints of child prostitution rose tenfold. Since 2006, more than 8,600 people have been prosecuted at the federal level on child porn charges.

    Equally troubling, authorities said, is that not only are the kids getting younger, but the images are getting more graphic and violent. Children can be heard crying in some videos, they said.

    What’s driving this trend?

    Some legal and psychological experts think it’s the addictive nature of porn and its explosion on the Internet. The more users see, they say, the more they want.

    “Normal sex acts don’t excite them anymore,” said Patrick Trueman, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. “Now you’re seeing the really extreme stuff, because once you’ve been through the still shots, that’s not good enough.”

    Using social networking

    In Michigan, a cyber crimes unit with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security has spotted another disturbing trend in recent months: Some people are using social networking to meet other child molesters. They’re using peer-to-peer networks to molest kids in unison, with a remote audience participating.

    For example, ICE agents arrested a 52-year-old Pinckney father last month for allegedly posing his three minor children in a sexually explicit manner during video chat sessions with a man in Texas. The other man did the same with his children. Both men have been charged. The Free Press is not releasing the name of the Michigan father to protect the identity of his children, ages 9, 8 and 5, according to court records.

    (Page 3 of 3)

    Then there’s the case of Steven Demink, a Redford man a federal magistrate referred to as “a cyber predator of the worst kind.”

    Demink, 41, is accused of manipulating women in three states into molesting their children and letting him view the sex acts via webcam or photographs, according to court records. He has until Feb. 18 to plea, or face trial Feb. 28.

    “This is the dark side of the Internet,” said Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of ICE investigations in Michigan and Ohio. “There have always been people with a deviant sexual interest in children. It’s now easier for them to do what they do.”

    And they’re getting better at covering their tracks, said Moskowitz, who pointed out that today’s child pornographer is computer savvy, some changing URLs every few days to throw the feds off track.

    Meanwhile, the agents are bringing prosecutors the goods.

    In the Eastern District of Michigan, federal prosecutors in 2010 prosecuted 43 child porn cases — almost one a week — including 35 guilty pleas. They did not have figures for past years, but said that there has been a significant increase.

    “It’s far more serious, and the abuse and the suffering that these kids go through is incredible,” Mulcahy said.

    The court docket, he noted, speaks for itself.

    Take for example, John Belloli, 50, of Dearborn Heights, who is facing up to 35 years in prison for drugging a 7-year-old before engaging in sexual acts with the child and taking pictures of the acts. Belloli pleaded guilty in November.

    In central Michigan, Dr. Craig Tubbs, 50, is facing 46 to 57 months in prison for possessing child porn. He is to be sentenced Feb. 14.

    Tough cases to defend

    Defense attorneys are bombarded with requests to take on these cases, which are considered taboo among lawyers.

    Raymond Cassar, a criminal defense lawyer from Farmington Hills, currently has five child pornography cases, compared to his usual one a year. No doubt, it’s the Internet that’s driving the child porn trend, he said.

    “People are under the impression that because they’re viewing it in their home, they’re not committing a crime,” Cassar said.

    Admittedly, the cases can be tough for the defense, he said. Cassar represents Belloli, whose case has been dubbed among the worst by the government, he said, noting the victim and her whereabouts are known.

    “There is a living and breathing human being behind the case,” Cassar said. Often, he said, the evidence consists only of a photograph or a video.

    “In this case, the government says, ‘Wait a minute, we have a live victim, and this is something that may haunt her for the rest of her life.’ ”

    And that kind of evidence can be hard for a defendant to overcome, and a jury to forget.

    Contact TRESA BALDAS: 313-223-4296 or tbaldas@freepress.com

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