Lack of information and certain myths about the use of children in pornography continue to make children more vulnerable to this form of exploitation, according to police, child-care professionals, and others.
Such abuse probably occurs most often in the homes of the children or in the company of adults known to the child's family, and law enforcement alone is not enough to deal with such exploitation, police are quick to admit.
Properly informed parents, school officials, and neighbors, among others, can help prevent or detect instances of this and other kinds of sexual exploitation, experts say.
One of the few educational prevention programs is a skit for elementary schoolchildren prepared by Illusion Theater, a federally funded model program in Minneapolis. The staff helps schools across the nation put on a program called ''Touch,'' which educates children as to proper and improper ways they may be touched.
The use of children in pornography is something most parents know little about. But it is closely related to two widely recognized problems, expepts say: child molestation and runaways.
''These kids aren't just being photographed, but molested,'' says Detective Ralph Bennett from the Los Angeles Police Department's unit on sexually exploited children. Often the photographing or filming is a way of recording the molestation, police say. The molestor may begin by taking pictures of the children in ordinary situations, like at play, says one expert on sexual abuse prevention.
And, says pediatrician Daniel Broughton of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., one of the ''great misconceptions'' about sexual abuse and child pornography concerns the image of the perpetrator. ''Most molestation and most pornography is (committed by) not only friends, but often family members and often parents.''
''Only rarely does the child pornographer measure up to the stereotype image of the 'dirty old man,' '' says Charles P. Nelson, assistant chief postal inspector for the US Postal Service. ''There have been the professional dealers identified in our investigations, but there have also been clergymen, teachers, psychologists, journalists, and businessmen,'' he recently told a congressional panel.
A volunteer police officer was recently arrested in Indiana after he allegedly photographed a number of boys ages 11 to 15, says Tom Rodgers, child pornography investigator for the Indianapolis police. A nursery school operator in Los Angeles was convicted in May of child molestation. Several thousand slides of nude children were found at his home.
How can parents help? Kee MacFarlane, formerly the sexual abuse prevention specialist for the National Center on Child Abuse (a position eliminated in recent budget cuts) and now a consultant to Children's Institute in Los Angeles, offers these suggestions:
* Listen to children. Believe a child if he or she says something that sounds like it could be sexual abuse. Pay attention to them. Many children are starving for attention, which is one reason they respond to a molestor-pornographer's attention and may even cover up for them.
* Talk to children about what abuse might happen and to be alert to it.
* Note unusual changes in the child's behavior -- such as becoming overly withdrawn or acting very secretive.
* Check out new adult friends of the child. Let adults, including babysitters , know that the child tells the parent everything that goes on between them and adults. One of the tragedies of child pornography -- and of sexual abuse in general -- is that ''the kids are usually coerced into it by someone they trust, '' Dr. Broughton says.
''Parents should monitor what their kids are doing even normal activities,'' he says.
Parents should be ''nonblaming'' if their child tells of being sexually exploited, Dr. Broughton cautions. Otherwise, the child may not reveal what actually happened. Establishing a home atmosphere where children feel free to talk about such things, if they occur, is important, child specialists say.
If sexual exploitation within a family is discovered, someone should be removed, and probably not the child, says Broughton. If the child is removed until the abuse is dealt with, he or she may end up feeling like the guilty one, he says.
Young children are not the only ones caught up in pornography. Teen-age runways needing money often turn to prostitution, which can bring them into contact with child pornographers, says Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attorney Norman Kent.