The Undercover Files: Child Exploitation

I’ve been with the Hamilton County Child Exploitation Task Force for about six years. There really isn’t a typical profile for someone who engages in child exploitation or pornography. They’re mostly men, but other than that it spans every social and economic category you can think of—the creepy old man sitting at a computer is outdated. Some are young and affluent. For a lot, it’s their first criminal offense.

A substantial number of our cases are initiated in online chat rooms, although offenders are always finding new ways to hide what they’re doing. They move from one place on the Internet to another. But some of the websites are incredibly overt—they’ll have names like “childrape.” The contributors often feel safe because the site is managed overseas or there are technological impediments to us locating them.

I was undercover recently, posing as a mother who had a sexual attraction to small children and wanted to trade some photos. We use almost any persona you can think of—kids, men interested in trading child pornography, men interested in purchasing kids, women interested in selling their own kids. And unfortunately, we’ve been very successful with all of them. Which means all of those people actually exist. I communicated with a guy who sent me a picture of a 6-year-old girl who he said was his daughter. Through further investigation, I figured out who that girl was. But the picture he sent fell just short of the definition of child pornography, so we couldn’t charge him. As we kept talking, though, he told me about his attraction to children and about waiting for the right time to molest the girl. When we finally did go through that door, we found him in bed naked with her. He was charged with dissemination of child pornography, and he’s now serving eight to 12 years.

Offenders know there’s a stigma. When they’re arrested, some are ashamed; others are relieved. I’ve actually had men tell me that they were glad to be caught. I think they take solace in having someone they can talk to about this secret they’ve been keeping.

—As told to Daniel S. Comiskey

The Undercover Files continue here.

This article appeared in the March 2013 issue.

Comiskey joined the magazine in 2006, shortly after completing an MA in journalism at Indiana University. During graduate school, he served as arts & culture editor of the Indiana Alumni Magazine and wrote for newspapers throughout the state. Comiskey’s long-form features have won a number of Society of Professional Journalists Awards, and have taken him inside sperm banks, across the country in a semi, and to the home of the world’s smallest books. He lives in Zionsville with his wife and three children.

Email him at [email protected]