Investigators with the Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children task force say they are seeing a concerning amount of cases involving children inadvertently learning about pornography through internet searches on home computers, tablets, and smartphones.
“There are times where we have been able to learn that it appears the child has been exposed to porn either accidentally, meaning they've looked at their parents or somebody's or friends device and have seen their internet search history and just decided to click on it and the next thing you know they're down the rabbit hole of pornography,” says Sgt. Jeff Zech, who has been part of the ICAC team for 6 years.
“And they [kids] pick up very quickly, pick up on how they want to act like these people act in these videos and they want to videotape themselves,” he adds.
Zech says his team uncovered a recent case in Franklin County involving a 5-year-old girl. ICAC received a complaint from Google about a video of child pornography uploaded to a personal YouTube account.
“The video depicted a very young child engaging in sexual activity, solo by herself,” says Zech. But after interviewing the parents and having the child interviewed separately by Nationwide Children’s Hospital, ICAC determined no crime was committed.
“We were able to deduce that the child had actually picked up one of the parents' devices and observed where they had been looking at porn, and the child clicked on these links, began to view porn, unbeknownst to the parents,” Zech explained.
Studies have shown the age where kids getting are getting exposed to child porn is getting younger as more kids are getting their hands on devices at younger ages as well.
New research from the security technology company Bitdefender reports the 10-and-under age group now accounts for one in 10 visitors to porn video sites. And when it comes to consumption, the same study shows children under the age of 10 now account for 22% of online porn watching for juveniles under the age of 18.
Gone are the days where kids used to hunt down dirty magazines in the house. Now, everything and anything imaginable is available with one click.
“Type in pornography or porn, and some of the most sadistic, nasty and cruel stuff pops up and it's free,” says Zech.
The concern, some say, is what this early exposure is teaching children. Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus consider pornography an addiction.
“It alters your view of what sex really is,” cautions Sgt. Zech. “So when kids are learning their sex education through a porn website as opposed to parents educating them, schools educating them, they're getting the wrong message, completely the wrong message.”