November 13, 2011
Children see their favorite cartoon characters on television, cereal boxes, backpacks and toy shelves. Now those cartoon characters are popping up in online pornography videos created by pedophiles to lure children.
"These are appalling videos and often include characters the child will recognize-Dora the Explorer, Barbie, and Toy Story," said Delegate Rob Bell, the 58th district representative. "The person will show these videos over and over, and of course we know kids like to watch videos over and over, after a period of time what is terrible becomes commonplace in their minds."
Experts say showing children images of their favorite cartoon characters engaged in sex acts is a tool pedophiles use to encourage young children to copy the behavior.
"It lowers their inhibitions and normalizes sexual acts even for very small children as young as five or six years old," said Camille Cooper, the legislative director for Protect, an organization that works with lawmakers to shed light on child abuse cases. Cooper says her agency is seeing more and more of these videos on the Internet.
"They can show the child the video and then act out the same sexual acts with the child."
New legislation passed this spring in Virginia aims to stop what experts call the "grooming process" of sexual abuse. "There is often efforts to groom the child, and it's the term where the pedophile wills pend time with the child and prepare the child to commit some kind of sex act, specifically using videos." Del. Bell authored the bill and says the goal is to stop the abuse before it starts. The legislation is the first of it's kind in Virginia and the law makes it a felony to show child pornography or grooming videos to children under the age of 13.
Bell says the law will make it easier to prosecute pedophiles.
But Cooper says law enforcement and the courts can only do so much and it's up to parents to know what their kids are watching and who they are watching it with.
"Normally people think about the child molester as the creepy old guy in the trench coat and that's not at all who these offenders are," Cooper said. "They are walking among you, they are sitting next to you at church and teaching your children in the classroom and little league."