Nanaimo RCMP are investigating more child pornography cases each year as reported incidents rise. (Photo submitted)

Child porn investigation numbers climb in Nanaimo

Nanaimo RCMP ask public to report child porn incidents as city’s annual investigation numbers rise

Nanaimo RCMP child pornography investigators scour the internet for evidence to put violators in prison as this city’s reported child porn incidents rise each year.

Each week three or four new files land on the desk of the corporal in charge of the Nanaimo RCMP general investigation unit, which has the arduous task of overseeing all child pornography investigations.

According to an RCMP press release issued Thursday, the number of reported incidents climbs each year, from 15 in 2016 to 29 in 2017, 42 in 2018 with an additional 25 received, so far, in 2019.

RELATED: B.C. woman jailed for child pornography after sharing photos of grandchildren online

The shared co-operation and expertise of the British Columbia Integrated Child Exploitation Unit and other police agencies across North America, IP addresses, websites and e-mails provide the digital evidence necessary to pursue individuals who possess and distribute pornographic images of children.

“What it means is that, if you are going to websites that contain images of child porn, your IP address will be flagged. [The unit] also monitors various sites,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, in an e-mail.

Recent sentences handed down in provincial court in Nanaimo of six and 10 years and a lifetime registration on the national sex offender database, sends a strong message to offenders, police say. Staff Sgt. Harvey Legary, Nanaimo RCMP’s plain clothes commander, warns that virtual private networks cannot hide offenders’ digital thumbprints and those involved in child porn activities can expect a knock on their doors from officers armed with search warrants.

One reason child porn investigations are on the rise is because police are getting better at detecting online child porn activity.

“People think that they’re sly and flying under the radar by having one, but all it takes is their VPN to drop down for one second and then the image goes through and we get notified by Facebook or WhatsApp or whatever application they’re using to send these images back and forth,” Legary said.

Legary said child porn image libraries can range from as little as a single image to 200,000. They come from all over the world and range from “mild to wild” depending on what the viewer wants to see, but a good portion of child porn is generated locally.

“There’s different charges for that. There’s possession and then there’s making … if that’s the case then they would get charged with everything they possibly could,” he said.

Legary said convictions are drawing some strong sentences and the accused often “plead out” to charges early to avoid dragging out trials and risking further public exposure.

“I had looked at releasing the names of people that we charge to the public, which I think would be 100 per cent good for them – especially for people in the neighbourhood – to know who their neighbours are … I’d like nothing better than to expose them, but we have to risk-manage the victims’ needs as well,” he said.

RELATED: Island man guilty of child porn charges, Crown alleges 250,000 images

The investigations are time-consuming and require countless hours of reviewing and cataloguing often thousands of images of children being sexually exploited. The ages vary, some victims are just infants while others may be in their teens. The toll the investigations have on investigators can be significant. Mental health checkups and peer-to-peer support is essential. Investigators also often transfer to other areas of crime investigations, such as street or property crime when they become overwhelmed. Legary said he is grateful to be a supervisor and not one of the investigators.

“Most of these guys and girls that are working on the general investigation section … they have children of their own, so it wears them pretty thin. It becomes personal and it takes its toll on them mentally to have to view these images of a child that’s the same age as the one they have … it definitely has a shelf-life for the investigators and they’re really good about seeking regular counselling and doing whatever they do to make themselves more resilient so they don’t take their work home with them…” he said. “The hair goes up on the back of my neck every time I walk down into that office, just with the general conversation that goes on all day long in there, but that’s what they do.”

The work and the emotional toll is tough, but pales compared to the long-term impact on the victims and their loved ones, which motivates police push through to bring cases to trial and get convictions.

“Investigators often hear, ‘it’s just a picture,’ but they couldn’t be more wrong. It is in fact an image of a real person whose life will never be the same,” noted Thursday’s press release. “Simply looking at these horrendous images continues the vicious cycle of abuse and re-victimization.”

Legary said he knows making the public aware of the extent of child pornography and how police combat it won’t stop those already partaking, but he hopes the message will dissuade those contemplating doing so and encourage people aware of incidents to contact the police.

People with knowledge of anyone who possesses or distributes child pornography are asked to call the Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345. To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com or call 1-800-222-8477.



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