Protecting War Zone Children
Lori Handrahan wants to stop people who use child pornography or who have been arrested for producing it from serving as peacekeepers in war zones or post-conflict areas.
The School of International Service faculty member has over 20 years’ experience working in fields such as gender-based violence and international human rights in Central Asia, Asia, Africa, and the Balkans. She has served as a consultant for several United Nations agencies and was the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ first gender expert in emergency operations in Chad during the Darfur genocide. She was also regional gender advisor for UNHCR in the Balkans.
While on these missions, she discovered that some so-called humanitarian workers and peacekeepers engaged in sex abuse of children. Just labeling such acts as prostitution, as some peacekeepers do, hardly justifies the crime, Handrahan says.
With the approach of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in January, she hopes to attract funding for a tracker that would focus on incidents of trafficking and sex abuse of children committed by peacekeepers.
The program is modeled in part on the LRA Crisis Tracker, which maps in real time attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army. (The LRA is responsible for decades of murders and mutilations in Central Africa, and the kidnapping of more than 30,000 children who have been forced to join the group.)
Another model is the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, whose chief project is the Satellite Sentinel Project. That project uses satellite imagery, field reporting, and crisis mapping systems to detect and deter mass atrocities.
“That’s the dream,” she says. “If we could do that at AU that would be absolutely fantastic.”
Child Porn Statistics
Since Handrahan’s perpetrator list focuses on U.S. sex offenders, she needs data on those offenders.
But reliable statistics on child pornography in the United States are hard to come by. One indicator of the size of the problem is the FBI’s Innocent Images National Initiative, part of the bureau’s Cyber Crimes Program. Between fiscal years 1996 and 2007, Innocent Images accounted for:
- 20,134 cases opened
- 6,844 informations (defined by legal dictionaries as an accusation or criminal charge) and indictments
- 9,469 arrests, locates, and summonses
- 6,863 convictions and pretrial diversions (cases often involving a referral to a rehabilitative program)
In fiscal year 2007, the FBI says online child pornography and child sexual exploitation investigations accounted for 39 percent of its cyber division investigations.
Maine vs. New Hampshire
As part of a perpetrator watch list Handrahan wants to compile, she began researching state statistics on child porn arrests. But finding basic information has proved frustrating. A prime example is her home state, Maine.
A Maine State Police official told the Bangor Daily News in March 2009 that downloadings of videos or pornographic pictures of children on computers in his state went from 14,951 times in 2007 to 43,530 times in 2008. He said the unit had issued 506 subpoenas for information, up from 165 in 2007.
Maine’s Computer Crimes Unit spends about $1 million a year, Handrahan says. Yet she says since 2006 Maine has made only 26 child pornography-related arrests.
By contrast, the town of Keene, New Hampshire, with one and a half staff members and an annual budget of $125,000, arrests 50 or 60 people per year on child pornography charges, or about 825 arrests since 1996, she says.
Why the disparity between the efforts of a single New Hampshire town and the state of Maine? Trying to get an explanation has so far proved unsuccessful, she says.
“I assumed it would be fairly easy to compile perpetrator statistics on child pornography arrests, but it seems there is no consistent overall data, at least not open to the public,” Handrahan says.
After researching the extent of arrests on child porn charges in the United States, Handrahan hopes to find funding for the watch list.
Initially, she and a research assistant are compiling child porn arrest statistics in three Northeastern and three Western states, including Maine, New Hampshire, Washington state, and California.
At the United Nations, at least, there has been some progress in acknowledging the problem of sexual abuse involving children younger than 18 years. Now, some U.N. agencies require and others must decide whether peacekeepers and humanitarian workers must sign codes of conduct forbidding such behavior. Enforcement, however, is another issue.
“If we can set up here at AU something similar to the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative that would actually focus on” these issues, “I think the senior UN leaders who say we care about zero tolerance would be happy” because they lack the political means to make it happen, Handrahan says.