Secrecy in child pornography thwarts law enforcement

Recent police and FBI raids may have netted the two biggest businesses dealing in child pornography in the US.

But the crackdowns on producers in Los Angeles and North Syracuse, N.Y., with huge mailing lists for child and adult pornography, may have only limited effect on the use of children in pornography across the country.

Most child pornography today in the US is not produced by businesses but by individuals, often in homes, say federal and local law enforcement officials. Unless it is produced or sold for a profit, it is not illegal under federal and most state anti-child pornography laws.

Even if the laws were changed, it would be difficult to catch the producers of homemade child pornography. They leave even less of a trail than the commercial operators. It took 10 years to catch Catherine Wilson, a mother in Los Angeles who allegedly had a mailing list of 25,000 customers; and it took four years to uncover the Spectra photo company in North Syracuse, with reportedly more than 20,000 customers.

Federal efforts to crack down on child pornography, however, appear to be limited.

Although the FBI does investigate child pornography, they have apparently had only one agent full time on this issue, M. Glenn Tuttle. He has been removed from that assignment. Requests for an interview with Mr. Tuttle were denied by his superior and two bureau spokesman. Two high-ranking FBI headquarters officials, whose offices would investigate child pornography, failed to return Monitor calls.

The US Customs office has no full time child pornography investigator and never has, says Stuart Seidel of customs. As a result of the decline in commercial child pornography, customs and the US Postal Service ''do not consider child pornography a high priority,'' according to a report by the federal government's General Accounting Office.

Yet there is no clear indication that the number of children exploited in child pornography has declined in the US.

The tougher laws against child pornography produced and distributed for profit appear to have pushed it off adult bookstore shelves, police say. But it may have simply ''gone underground,'' say various law enforment officials.

There is no way of knowing whether the amount of homemade child pornography has declined.

The ''largest percentage'' of child pornography today is homemade and not made for profit, claims the FBI's Dana Caro, inspector -deputy assistant director, criminal investigative division. It is traded back and forth among collectors in a ''clandestine subculture'' brought into contact through advertisements in ''swinger'' magazines, he says. This subculture, the FBI has determined, ''is involved in recruiting and transporting minors for sexual exploitation,'' he told a Senate panel in April.

He suggests that Congress eliminate the for-profit restrictions in the laws dealing with production and distribution of child pornography -- restrictions that he says have ''seriously impaired'' federal investigations.

Even when federal or local police efforts are focused on a suspected for-profit dealer in child pornography, breaking through the veil of secrecy that surround such underground operations is not an easy task.

Catherine Wilson allegedly bought mailing lists of soft-core adult pornography. She reportedly narrowed this list down eventually to customers who responded to her offer of films showing ''young'' people, according to William Anderson, US postal inspector in Los Angeles. The films showed children as young as six, according to Los Angeles police. She reportedly was branching into the use of video tapes of child pornography.

(Law enforcement officials interviewed in various cities are concerned that video tapes may be used increasingly by child molesters to film their sexual abuse of children, thus avoiding the need to send film to a processor.)

Catherine Wilson allegedly used a Denmark mailing address for receiving orders, then had the orders sent back in code to her company in California, according to inspector Anderson. She and assistants would out-wait surveillance teams and mail the material with no return address, he says.

It was a profitable business. According to officials, she grossed about $500, 000 a year, owned several expensive cars and three homes. She also collected welfare.

In 1978 she had been arrested for distribution of obscene materials, but continued operating while on probation, say police. Even though some of her assistants were arrested on similar charges, no one talked until recently, leading to her arrest in April.

In the April raid in North Syracuse, the FBI seized pornography involving children as young as three, according to an FBI document. In raids of some 10 of the largest customers of Spectra, vans were used to haul away the large quantities of child and adult pornography, according to Paul Daly, special agent in charge of the Albany, N.Y., bureau.

Spectra had been under suspicion since 1978, according to Daly. But it was only after a female undercover FBI agent worked in the company for several months, beginning last December, that enough evidence was gathered to obtain a search warrant.

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