Reporting Child Pornography: What Law Enforcement Needs To Know

On July 7, 2021, Arlan Wesley Harrell, 27, of Hawthorne, California, pled guilty to engaging a child exploitation enterprise; obtaining custody of a minor for purposes of producing child pornography; production of child pornography; and possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to life in prison on February 18th, 2022.

Harrell created child sexual abuse material (CSAM) with 20 victims, whose ages ranged from infancy to nine years of age. He had distributed and advertised CSAM on an online bulletin board dedicated to the sexual exploitation of children under the age of five.

Harrell was an active member of that website, along with co-defendants. The site was hosted on Tor, a computer network on the dark web that is specifically designed to facilitate anonymous communication over the internet. Co-defendants have also pled guilty. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs "California Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for Creating Child Sexual Abuse Material of A Number of Young Children and Engaging in a Child Exploitation Enterprise" (Feb. 18, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

Child pornography is a form of child sexual exploitation. Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (a person less than 18). Images of child pornography are also referred to as child sexual abuse images. Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, importation, reception, or possession of any image of child pornography.

The illegal, damaging behavior is not rare. The National Center For Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), reviews more than 25 million child sexual abuse images and videos annually. That is equivalent to more than 480,769 images per week.

The initial making of the child pornography is child sexual abuse, and every time an image is shared or purchased, it is the exploitation of children.

Safe adults who reasonably suspect other adults are sharing sexually exploitative videos should report their suspicions immediately.

In 2011, for example, a Utah man was seen viewing child porn on a Delta airline flight. He was arrested. And, in 2020, a Washington resident was convicted of conspiracy to produce child pornography, after an alert passenger on a flight to San Jose, California, noticed disturbing texts between the man and his girlfriend on the ground.

The investigation revealed the two had produced and shared sexually explicit images of children placed in her care. The passenger spoke up to flight attendants, who arranged for law enforcement to meet the plane and arrest the man.

Safe adults should never hesitate to report child sexual abuse, including child pornography.

What do you need to know to about reporting child sexual abuse?

  • Be prepared to provide your name and relationship with the targets, victims, and the accused.
  • Be prepared to share places, dates, and times.
  • Be specific about what gave you the reasonable suspicion to make a report.
  • Be prepared to provide the names of witnesses or others that may have information or collaborate what you are reporting.
  • Focus on the facts and do not speculate.
  • Do not exaggerate.
  • If you do not know something, verbally confirm you do not know, and don't let this deter you from reporting.
  • Unless you witnessed the abuse, never state you know with certainty that the abuse happened.
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