I-TEAM INVESTIGATES: Our I-team finds child pornography arrests are on the rise, victims getting younger
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7
NORTH AUGUSTA, SC (WRDW/WAGT) – Our I-Team has been investigating a spike in child porn cases for the past five months.
In South Carolina alone, we found a 467% increase in just five years. But that’s not all we discovered – it appears in the past few years, the victims have been getting younger. Much younger.
Our investigation is even more illuminating with the arrest of three men in the past few months on child pornography charges: Jordan Logan, Claude Johnson, and John Malone.
The description of what investigators say they found on Malone's devices alone is way too graphic, but we can use one word from the arrest warrants: pre-pubescent.
GBI agent Charles Kicklighter has spent his career tracking down child predators who lurk in the shadows of the dark web, but he says the darkness has gotten even darker.
“The children are younger. Pre-pubescent. Toddler, infant,” Kicklighter said. “The guys and women changing and exchanging child pornography, the children have gotten younger as to what they desire, what they want.”
And it’s happening closer than you think. One case that sticks out for Agent Kicklighter involved a local pair of twins – a clerk at a grocery store and a cashier at a local hardware store. Both are sitting in prison for child porn.
The videos Kicklighter says he found on their computers -- involving infants -- are the worst he's seen in his 30-year career.
“Two of the videos I would not even show to the prosecutor because they were that bad,” Kicklighter said. “With a child being sexually abused, physically abused, bondage -- basically tortured.”
More often than not, law enforcement doesn't find a career criminal on the other side of the computer.
“We've had middle school principals, teachers, police officers,” Kicklighter said.
He says it's often people you know, and people you trust. Angela Williams, a survivor of abuse, knows firsthand.
“I'm one of the statistics. I'm one of the little girls that was sexually abused. I was abused by my stepfather, and it started at a very young age,” Williams said.
Williams was just 3 years old and it continued for years. She says the threats of sexual abuse are not from outside threats, but more from within our own homes.
“When you take a child's innocence, that's a part of their soul,” Williams said. “It can't be replaced and it can't be returned.”
And on the internet, the deepest, darkest desires of the human psyche, are available in living color.
“Pornography is definitely the fuel for child sexual abuse,” Kicklighter said. “And, I think we have to do a better job of stopping that.”
It's a vicious cycle. Experts say the more child pornography pedophiles watch, the more desensitized they can become. They start to internalize what they see as normal behavior and crave more shocking images, which is why victims are getting younger.
“[Infant pornography] It's a trend. It's growing,” Kicklighter said. “It's not something that's kind of sporadic here and there.”
The victims can’t speak. It’s a crime so shocking, it’s often dismissed as “impossible.”
“People are capable of doing things you wouldn’t imagine they would be capable of doing,” Williams said.
Any child under 12 is considered pre-pubescent in the eyes of the law. That's why this trend may be pretty surprising to a lot of parents. Often, parents hear the charge "child pornography" and assume it's probably a pre-teen.
But, Kicklighter says, he rarely sees 13, 14, or 15-year-old victims on suspects' hard drives and devices. The majority of the cases he brings to court now involve pre-pubescent kids, infants, and toddlers.