Curled up on the cold tile floor of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s bathroom floor, I tried to regulate my breathing by placing my hand over my heart and humming the nursery rhythm “You are My Sunshine,” while tears poured out uncontrollably from the depths of my soul. One of my dearest friends in DC, reached underneath the stall as she tried to coax me to unlock the latch, but between the wails I laid frozen as I couldn’t find the strength to lift my head, let alone get myself off the floor. Calmly, she talked to me under the stall, patiently waiting for my panic attack to subside. I was finally able to peel myself off the floor and over to open the stark stall door and into the warm loving arms of an amazing friend on the other side.
It has been 17 years since the last time I found myself sitting on the white sheets in the cold white room, with vaulted ceilings and bright lights. Those are the same 17 years I have spent trying to forget the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings I experienced in that chilling room. It may be 17 years, but in that instant it felt like I was eleven years old and it was happening all over again.
I was excited to tour the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) Headquarters and learn more about what they do to help victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. Once we arrived to the Child Sexual Exploitation’s Child Victim Identification Program, which “serves as the central repository in the U.S. for information relating to child victims depicted in sexually exploitive images and videos,” our tour guide explained how the unit has reviewed more than 132 million images and videos since it began in 2002.  Their focus is to assist federal and state law enforcement agencies and prosecutors with child pornography investigations, plus to help law enforcement identify child victims so law enforcement can locate and rescue them from exploitive situations.
I listened intently but nodded uncomfortably as she spoke, but then she said something that had never crossed my mind before. Something that was so unimaginable to me that the world would instantly start moving in slow motion the moment she spoke.
“We are constantly cataloging series. We still get photos from the 80’s and 90’s on a regular basis.” I instantly gripped the wall behind me as I felt the ground beneath me start to fall away.
“The 80’s and 90’s…,” I thought.
I had never let myself imagine that the images of my 11-13 year old self, being sexually abused by multiple men, were still floating in cyber space. Let alone; still be traded as part of the “game.”
The notion that sexual exploitation is solely the result/responsibility of those partaking in the picture or physical abuse is beyond me. Maybe, because members of “normal” society can hardly wrap their minds around the act itself, the public cannot see how the abuse is fueled by those who “only” view child pornography.
Rare is it that someone will walk into a XXX store and purchase C.P. (child pornography) although it does happen. More often than not, it is online in a masked chatroom or on the darknet. The majority of those engaged in these “clubs, rooms, societies, etc.” participate in what is known as “Pic4Pic.” In essence, it means “I will trade you a picture of child pornography I own for a picture you own.” This allows the “members” to screen for law enforcement and see if the new buyer has “quality” images.
Unfortunately, this fuels the cycle of violence because any imagery that is easily obtainable for a new C.P. viewer is going to be old, out of date, and most likely already owned by other members. In my case, I became the way for one individual to have new photos that he could trade. Over time, it only progressed and he went from trading my pictures to trading me.
This is why it is so crucial for individuals, organizations, and legislatures to stand behind bills such as Texas’ House Bill 2291, which increases the classifications and penalties for subsequent felonies regarding individuals who own child pornography. After the initial abuse, the continued emotional, mental, and even physical damage that viewers of child pornography force upon their victims, by “only” looking, is insurmountable. Unlike the abusers themselves, the viewers victimize child after child, then adult after adult, over and over again, as they continue to use and share the images worldwide.
Some people argue that viewing pornography, whether child or adult, is a victimless crime because the abuse itself has passed. However, lying on the hard cold floor of the NCMEC bathroom, feeling the life drift out of me as I began to lose consciousness from my lack of oxygen, I didn’t feel victimless. I felt like the little girl sitting on the white sheets in the cold white room, with a vaulted ceiling, bright lights, and colder harder hands unbuttoning the back of my dress, but this time, millions of men were watching.
Kim is a survivor of child sex trafficking and is an advocate through public policy and legislation for victims’ rights. She works with domestic sex trafficking victims who are actively engaged in the lifestyle and law enforcement agencies who want a better understanding of how to work with victims’ who are still bonded with their traffickers. Her organization, Restoration Initiative, is currently working towards an emergency shelter for victims in West Texas. She earned her Pre-Law Bachelor’s degree from Lubbock Christian University in Texas. She currently lives in Washington, D.C. pursuing a duel Master’s degree of Public Policy & Public Administration. She will eventually run for Congress, and win.