This year's Saks Fifth Avenue and Washington Life Men and Women of Style and Substance Awards will benefit WiredKids, while honoring local men and women for their contributions to Washington and the global community. Katie Tarbox, author of A Girl's Life Online (formerly titled Katie.com), interviewed Parry for Washington Life.
Katie Tarbox: You had the ideal job and an even more ideal life. What made you leave your job, sell your house and give up security for this issue?
Parry Aftab: My “Ah Ha” moment came when I found an image online of a four year-old girl being raped. It was brutal and graphic, and I knew I had to do something.
KT: Who watches child pornography?
PA: The molesters are mostly white upper-middle class men. This type of crime requires two things: time and money. You need money to buy the technology, create these images on the Internet, and you need the leisure of time. This demographic has both.
KT: Can you explain a bit more about how the Internet facilitates child trafficking?
PA: The Internet is an extraordinary resource, especially for kids. However, I also realize that while we are using it to teach children and adults about online safety and privacy, pedophile and hate groups are using it to train others to target children. The internet gives them their own community. They can use the anonymity of the Internet to groom children and young teens into offline meetings, book sex tours to Asia, trade images of two year-old children being attacked, and even watch young children being raped through live Internet feeds while making requests through chat rooms.
KT: So you're essentially saying that molesters can participate live in a rape via the Internet?
PA: Yes. Child molesters can watch actual live feeds of infants and children being raped. At the same time, a chat room runs where people can make requests of what they want to see. Today, you have more and more people actually participating in these kind of crimes, rather than just viewing it after the fact.
KT: What is being done about this? Are there laws that differentiate between taking part in a live Internet rape versus viewing photos after the fact?
PA: Very little. The child pornography business is growing at a much faster rate than it can be stopped. Law enforcement has their hands tied with other issues. It's estimated that on average, over 52,000 web sites of child pornography are reported a month, and nothing really happens. Those sites are taken down, but new ones are created to replace them. In addition, the laws do not differentiate between the images because they are all considered “media” and as having taken place in the past. This is because even when the feed is live, it takes time to transmit the images, even if only an eighth of a second.
KT: Many people are unaware that child molesters own and operate many orphanages in Asia? What is being done about this?
PA: Right now you have a lot of money being sent to the tsunami area for orphanages. Unfortunately, it is true that child molesters run many orphanages in Asia. We're working with U.S. Customs and experts in the area to make sure that this funding is being directed toward the right orphanages, and helping aid groups to decipher between orphanages that host sex tours.
KT: What has been some key legislation in terms of preventing child exploitation in the U.S., but also sex trafficking in other countries? Can the laws be improved?
PA: They primarily fall under the “Protect act,” which was established along with the Amber alert. These laws now give our law enforcement greater extraterritorial reach in stopping the sex trafficking and sex travel junkets that involves any US citizen, and anyone traveling through, from or to the United States. In addition, we finally have a new law on the books to replace the child pornography law, which was found to be unconstitutional. It's now illegal for someone to target a child for sexual harassment by posting information about them in sex or pedophile chatrooms. We've made it illegal for a pornographer to use established names (the White House, Sesame Street) to lure children into thinking they have reached their favorite site. Internet crimes against children task forces have been established around the country to help state, local and federal law enforcement agencies to coordinate their activities in helping with the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. We've come further than I had ever expected we would.
KT: This is obviously not enough.
PA: You're right. The problem with most of our laws is that we do not provide enough money and support to enforce our existing laws. In addition, judges are not strict when it comes to sentencing, because too often they are essentially sentencing their golf buddy from the country club. In addition, the laws are not uniform. The age of consent varies from state to state, which in some cases does not protect even thirteen-year-olds from this crime.
KT: Who are the kids most at risk on the Internet?
PA: Children most at risk tend to live privileged and sheltered lives, where they feel immune to this type of crime and do not actively think about the consequences. Obviously, this includes children of Washington Life's readership. A common statistic is that one in five children have been solicited online, and that is only of the reported cases.
KT: You have thousands of unpaid volunteers. Who are they? What do they do?
PA: We are the world's largest virtual organization, which means we don't have physical offices and we operate from the computers of our volunteers. In the past six years, we have grown to over ten thousand volunteers in 46 countries. They range from teenagers who go out into their communities to educate their peers, to techies that assist law enforcement, to 88 year-old grandmothers who help with the administration.
KT: As you know, this year's Washington Life and Saks Fifth Avenue Substance and Style Awards will benefit WiredKids in April. Last year, close to $100,000 was raised for the charity. How do you plan to use this money?
PA: The money raised at this wonderful event will go to our Kids in Danger programs. That will include creating awareness about the pedophile organizations that own and control orphanages in tsunami-torn countries. We will establish a web site where children who are afraid to go to their parents and have been victimized by sexual predators can find help, support and comfort (called Katie's Place). We will build a network of experts who can immediately be called upon when any future disaster puts children at risk and help law enforcement training and awareness. Without offices and paid staff, our funding goes entirely to our programs. Through the generosity of the wonderful people at Washington Life, Saks Fifth Avenue and the sponsors of the Substance and Style Awards, we will be able to help thousands of children. It's a dream come true.