"It's important to talk about it. You raise awareness. But you can also prevent (child abuse) by not letting it be a secret."
- American speed skater Chris Witty
Most people don't even want to think about child pornography.
It's tough to let your mind go certain places. An autistic four-year-old is made to pose provocatively with obscene placards. An infant is raped repeatedly, complete with audiotaped screams of pain.
But unless we are willing, in our hearts and minds, to put faces to the children behind the staggering statistics - 31,460 pictures and 3,451 videos in the personal collection of convicted Anglican priest Robin Barrett alone - we are contributing to the shroud of secrecy that this nefarious activity requires in order to perpetuate.
Thankfully, there are people out there who not only think about child pornography, but work actively to combat it, despite the psychological toll that work can take.
Sting sparked by local activity
One of the people on the front lines in Canada is Det. Paul Krawczyk of the Exploitation Section of the Toronto Police Service.
He helped lead Project Sanctuary, a 14-month probe that resulted in the 2009 arrests of 57 men facing 218 charges. It involved police work in Germany, the United Kingdom and North America, including the RCMP and RNC here.
In Canada, 25 men were charged with 131 offences and 12 child victims were rescued. The RCMP in Newfoundland said three of the children were from this province.
The Toronto Police service said children of all ages were being abused on "hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of images."
The investigation was triggered when the police made contact with Robin Barrett online and began to infiltrate the pornography ring.
Krawczyk has seen the victims' faces and knows their pain and suffering is all too real.
For privacy reasons, he can't divulge details about them, but he said usually the sexual predator is someone they know and trust.
Families teach their children about "stranger danger," he said, but often neglect to consider the perils closer to home.
"The victims seem to be getting younger," Krawczyk said. "Easy access to video now means we're seeing more video than before and there are (computer) programs out there that make it super-simple to trade this stuff fast."
Abducted from his bed
One of the children rescued was a toddler in the U.S., whose parents had befriended a travelling salesman and let the man stay with them whenever he was passing through.
The man would abduct the child in the middle of the night as the rest of the family slept, take him to a hotel room to sexually assault him, videotape his sadistic performance and then return him. The parents were oblivious until the man was arrested through Project Sanctuary and they were able to pinpoint where the video was made by identifying furniture in some of the scenes.
"We are getting better at catching them and we are catching big fish," Krawczyk said. "But they've learned and adapted, too."
In some instances, police technology that can get fingerprints from photographs and video has been foiled by child pornographers who add black bars to their images to block hands from view.
"Collections are huge these days compared to what they used to be," Krawczyk said. "Every year there comes a new challenge and we're always playing catch-up."
Victims are getting younger, too - some chosen deliberately because they are pre-verbal, thereby lessening the likelihood of the sexual predator being caught.
"It's a bonus for them, if you like ...," Krawczyk said, "because these people can't speak."
Don't keep secrets
He says secrecy is key for child pornographers and urges parents to explain to children that secrets never last.
If someone tells a little girl that a birthday party is being planned for her brother, he explained, that's a secret that lasts a little while, and then the big day comes and the secret ceases to exist.
"Secrets expire," Krawczyk said. "When someone says to a child, 'Never tell anybody," that's not something we teach (them to uphold) these days."
He said it's tough to educate the public about child pornography because most people don't want their minds to go there, and they are fortunately never confronted with the horrible sights and sounds.
"You just try to get the word out that this is a problem," he said. "It could be your neighbour, the person next to you. Children are being sexually abused and they're forever being sexually abused (online)."
Child pornography - once distributed electronically - lives on indefinitely.
Krawczyk recalls a colleague telling him about one victim's despair at forever being victimized.
"She said, 'I walk down the street and I look into men's eyes and I wonder if they've seen my picture.'
"I think that would be one of the more difficult things to deal with."
Tough to stop
And if you think public shame and tough prison sentences always act as deterrents, think again.
Even forbidding a convicted child sexual predator from owning a computer, or letting them have one but making them concede to random checks of its contents doesn't work. That was one of the conditions attached to Roman Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey when he was sentenced last week.
The fact is, the justice system doesn't have the resources to conduct regular checks of every child pornographer's computer, and eventually the conditions attached to their parole or probation expire and they are able to amass collections all over again.
Krawczyk is disheartened when he attends trials and hears lawyers arguing vehemently that their client has to have access to a computer for work purposes.
"It's like putting the alcoholic to work in the liquor store," he said. "We're arresting people for the second, third and fourth times."
His work is daunting, depressing and disturbing, yes. But there are pockets of optimism, too.
"It's disheartening," Krawczyk acknowledged. "But the best thing in the world is to know you've made a difference in the life of a child."
Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton