To catch a predator 

Both online and in the courts, local officials wrestle with how to handle the alarming rise in child pornography cases.

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"I have trouble with the computer part of it because, as I have indicated, I can think of in 13 years, only one case [where no computer was involved]," Molloy said during Fevold's sentencing hearing. "And frankly, and frankly, there may have been a computer involved in that."

As Congress mandates longer sentences, Fevold's case highlights a growing rift in the federal judiciary. For instance, when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's decision to send a 65-year-old man with no criminal record to prison for 17.5 years for downloading pornography, Judge Gilbert S. Merritt issued this dissent:

"Our federal legal system has lost its bearings on the subject of computer-based child pornography. Our 'social revulsion' against these 'misfits' downloading these images is perhaps somewhat more rational than the thousands of witchcraft trials and burnings conducted in Europe and here from the 13th to the 18th centuries, but it borders on the same thing."

•••

Missoula clinical psychologist Michael Scolatti says child pornography isn't just about sex. It's also about gaining power and control, and escaping unpleasant emotions.

"They use it to medicate negative feelings," says Scolatti, who's treated sex offenders in Missoula for 27 years.

Most of the clients he sees who have been charged with pornography-related offenses are functional members of society. They have a job and a family, and child pornography is an anomaly within their behavior.

"These guys are incredibly normal," he says.

Law enforcement points to studies conducted within the Federal Bureau of Prisons that indicate between 60 and 80 percent of individuals incarcerated for pornography-related offenses have committed hands-on sex crimes.

Scolatti disputes those numbers, pointing to polygraph tests given by the Federal Prosecutors Office and his cases. He estimates roughly 40 percent of child pornography offenders have at some point committed a hands-on offense.

Scolatti first treated someone with a child pornography addiction in 1997. Since then, his caseload has steadily grown. These days, he serves between 20 or 30 offenders a year.

"It's just been crazy in that sense—the explosion," he says.

As technology carries contraband further into homes, schools and workplaces, Scolatti says the crime is increasingly present in rural Montana.

click to enlarge Before Chris Shermer started as a full-time detective for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Fork in September 2008, he was asked to take an 800-question personality test to evaluate his mental stability. “It’s not the best kind of work,” he says. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • photo by Anne Medley
  • Before Chris Shermer started as a full-time detective for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Fork in September 2008, he was asked to take an 800-question personality test to evaluate his mental stability. “It’s not the best kind of work,” he says.

"The technology has brought them out of the woods," he says.

In turn, federal penitentiaries are having a hard time treating the flood of offenders. Scollati warns that there are not enough treatment programs in place, and most leave prison without receiving help.

Fevold, for example, says he's not currently in treatment for pornography addiction. And as with alcoholism, or any other addiction, Scollati says the compulsion never entirely goes away. For those who are truly hooked, long-term treatment is required. And prison doesn't appear to be the solution.

"We are wasting millions of dollars," Scollati says, "incarcerating these guys."

•••

Every picture has a victim. That's one of the messages law enforcement officials remind themselves of as they fight against child pornography.

The public saw this firsthand when the face of child pornography, 13-year-old Masha Allen, testified before Congress in 2006. Her adopted father, Matthew Mancuso, started taking photos of her nude when she was 6. He posted more than 200 sexually explicit photos of her on the Internet.

In a 2006 interview with CNN, Allen discussed living with the lingering reminders of her abuse.

"My pictures that are on the Internet disturb me more than what Matthew did because I know that the abuse stopped," she said. "But those pictures are still on the Internet."

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has received 750,000 calls, e-mails and letters about child exploitation crimes since Congress directed the nonprofit to create a "CyberTipline" in 1998, says John Shehan, who directs NCMEC's exploited child division out of Arlington, Va.

NCMEC acts in conjunction with law enforcement. After scrutinizing tips that come in from the public and Internet service providers, the advocacy organization alerts local authorities. The vast majority of leads NCMEC fields are child-pornography based.

"We're essentially doing analytical work for law enforcement," Shehan says.

The nonprofit also works with police to find and rescue children affected by child pornography. Shehan says law enforcement agents assigned to NCMEC review approximately 250,000 photos and videos submitted by tipsters and other authorities every week to help identify victims.

"Our numbers are not decreasing," Shehan says. "We're seeing larger volumes."

The same holds true for Shermer in Missoula. The detective recently returned from an ICAC training course in Ohio. He's now set to teach other detectives across Montana the new techniques he learned to track Internet crime.

But back in his office, he's first focused on the task at hand. Shermer logs onto his regular chat room and the 49-year-old man he's been communicating with pops back up after disappearing for several weeks.

"He immediately wants pictures of my breasts," says Shermer. "That's his forte. I guess he likes that stuff. I said, 'You want pictures of my undeveloped'—I didn't say undeveloped, but, 'my 13-year-old breasts?'" Shermer says.

Shermer's careful to take things slow with the older man. He sticks to mundane topics like being mad at mom.

"I want him to talk to me about my age and see what's in his mind," Shermer says. "My job is to see if his desire is to actually have sex with a 13-year-old."

But the man doesn't seem to want to hear much about a teenage girl's daily frustrations. He's set on talking sex. So Shermer strings him along, hoping to learn more.

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