PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – Police officers used to witnessing daily scenes of violence are shocked by the brutal images seized during operations against pedophiles in Brazil. But combined efforts between government authorities and civic organizations are trying to end these abuses.
Brazil, through the use of technology and legislation – namely Article 240 of the Child and Adolescent Statute – has emerged as a world leader in the battle against pedophilia.
Article 240 of the Child and Adolescent Statute (Law 8069/90) makes it a crime to “produce, reproduce, direct, photograph, film or register, by any means, acts of explicit or pornographic sex involving children or adolescents.” The crime is punishable by four to eight years in prison and a fine.
“In some cases, photos and videos helped us determine that the same child had been abused from the age of 11 until the age of 16,” says Federal Police (PF) Officer Flúvio Cardinelle Oliveira Garcia, who heads the Paraná State Center for Cybercrime Prevention.
Garcia also was one of the leaders of Operation Ghost, which dismantled an international criminal organization involved in pedophilia on the Internet in October 2009. The organization included 35 pedophiles from several countries, Garcia says. The investigations revealed the group expelled members who failed to post child pornography on the Internet daily.
Following the arrest of a Brazilian in Campo Largo, a city in the state of Paraná, other members of the group were arrested in several countries. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assisted in the operation.
Brazilian police are waiting for arrest warrants to apprehend six other suspects involved in the case. The suspects are not members of the club, but they allegedly exchanged child pornography with the Brazilian arrested in Campo Largo.
Brazil among top 10 nations in indentifying victims
Federal Police Officer Stenio Santos Sousa, who heads the Special Taskforce for Combating Hate Crimes and Child Pornography on the Internet, says Brazil is among the top 10 countries in identifying victims of this type of crime.
In 2010, the PF received a total of 70,000 pedophile-related reports from the Congressional Committee on Pedophilia, the NGO SaferNet Brasil and concerned citizens.
In 2009, the PF received fewer than 10,000. Officials made 1,443 child pornography-related arrests from 2009 to 2010.
Brazil’s success against child pornography led Interpol to grant the country’s law enforcement agencies access to the International Childhood Sexual Exploitation Image Database, which is used for identifying and locating children who have been victims of sexual exploitation.
Brazil is the 12th country to gain access to the database.
The PF is awaiting funds from the federal government in order to create its National Center for Online Protection of Children and Adolescents. The goal is to reinforce the PF’s monitoring of the worldwide computer network and create an agency dedicated to identifying and finding victims.
“Through detailed analysis of a photograph or video, specialists are able to determine the geographic coordinates of the victims, which aids in locating them,” Sousa says.
Since 2009, the PF has been in charge of Anjos da Rede project, an initiative formed through a partnership with SaferNet Brasil. Brazilians, through Anjos da Rede, report websites they claim contain child pornography to denuncia.pf.gov.br.
A computer program developed by SaferNet analyzes the text and images on the reported sites and creates a document that has an 80% chance of correctly identifying illegal content. Based on the results, a PF official determines whether the website has indeed violated the law.
“Pedophilia is a crime that directly affects children’s dignity and their ability to become full members of society,” Sousa says. “A society with abused children will never fully develop its evolutionary capacity.”
Study shows young people take risks on the Internet
In 2009, social networks were behind the highest number of incidents related to Internet-based human rights violations in Brazil, according to SaferNet.
And statistics should rise this year, considering websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Orkut are growing in popularity, says SaferNet President Thiago Tavares.
The overexposure of intimate details on the Internet also places children and adolescents in danger, Tavares says.
“We have cases of 12-year-old boys and girls having sex on Twitter, with the camera connected, transmitting images to millions of users,” Tavares says.
A study by Internet security company McAfee concluded adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 who use social networking websites lack Internet awareness.
Of those interviewed, 71% were members of social networks. And of that percentage, 22% posted their cell phone numbers online, 21% listed the names of their schools and 7% included their home addresses.
And 63% use the Internet to talk to strangers.
“Young people posting personal information on the Internet exposes them to a variety of risks,” warns Sergio Oliveira, the customer relations manager at McAfee. “The worst part is that 56% of respondents said that they know how to hide their online activities from their parents.”
Children and adolescents need to be taught how to use social networking websites safely, Taveres says.
“Parents, professors and tutors should pay attention to what children and young people are doing on the Internet,” Tavares says. “Taking preventive measures is not easy, but it’s the most effective means of protection.”