When federal agents and Euless, Texas, police officers showed up at his door, Tim Whitington didn’t even ask why they were there.
“You’re here for the bad stuff,” he said.
And just like that – after agents escorted a young boy away – Whitington directed them to a wooden box containing a flash drive.
What they found was disturbing: graphic pornographic images of children. Even more troubling was the discovery of a relatively new form of child pornography, one in which perpetrators request a specific type of molestation they watch online as it happens.
The photographic evidence, and Whitington’s arrest, led to the apprehension of a half-dozen child molesters across the country.
The Whitington case was a victory in the fight against child pornography, law enforcement officials say. It’s a war worth waging, but one they don’t expect to win.
In a typical week, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia fields about 10,000 child pornography-related tips, said Michelle Collins, vice president of the center’s exploited children division. About 91 million child porn images and videos have been seized by authorities since 2002.
In comparison, the number of child pornography arrests is small: An estimated 5,000 people nationwide were arrested in child porn crimes, such as possession or distribution, in 2009, the latest figures from the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
The number of arrests for producing child pornography, as in the Whitington case, was less than 2,000 in 2009.
Last week, 255 people were arrested as part of a national roundup of child predators.
It’s no secret what’s behind the rapid increase in the creation and distribution of child pornography, experts say. The Internet has made child pornography easy to make, find and trade.
Law enforcement groups target the problem, but their numbers are small and the caseload heavy. The topic will be explored next month when experts from around the world come to Dallas for the annual Crimes Against Children Conference, which will be hosted by the Dallas Police Department and the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center.