Working for a UK based forensic company I do a lot of work with cases involving indecent images of children (known commonly as child porn). When such pictures or videos are found on a computer they are categorised. The categorising of these pictures is according to the scale below:
1) Nudity or Erotic Posing of Child(ren)
2) Sexual Activity Between Children or Solo Masturbation
3) Non-Penetrative Sexual Activity Between Adult(s) and Child(ren).
4) Penetration of Child(ren)
5) Sadism/Bestiality Involving Children
Recent legislation also means that the above categories are divided into three subcategories based on the age of the subjects.
In our office we have a man who spends most of his time categorising material according to this scale. Sentencing is also based on the level of images found on a suspect’s computer, if a suspect has level 5 images they will be given a more substantial sentence than if they possess level 1 images. This individual has a job that I do not envy but he has been doing this kind of work for decades, and he has some interesting stories – but that’s for another time.
The work that he does helps us considerably. First, we don’t have to spend hours doing the task ourselves and second, our exposure to this material is reduced. We import his work into EnCase as bookmarks and perform a normal investigation.
This week this person had annual leave booked. This meant that the tasks of categorising of images fell back on the investigators. The last place I worked we did all of our own categorising so I’m familiar with the material and just got on with it. I’ve worked in this field for three years and, in this time, I’ve seen and categorised several millions of these images. Am I used to it? Have I become desensitised to this kind of material? Not in the least.
I can honestly say that categorising pictures this week has been horrible. I am disgusted and appalled by the things I see. Some people in this field will answer this with “You’re in the wrong business,” or “Don’t worry, you’ll learn to cope with it.” These kinds of comments are not helpful or even true.
After three years these people suggest that I should have developed some sort of immunity to this material but I don’t agree. I believe it is my disgust at these images that separates me from those people that view it illegally. I never want to sit down to do such a case and not feel terrible about doing it. I’m not saying that I can’t cope with the work, I can handle it just fine, but I never want to get to a point where it doesn’t affect me. If I ever reach it I will consider leaving the field in order to preserve my own humanity.
This is the main reason that I won’t stop arguing that we, as forensic investigators, should not be debating the difference between a 15 and a 16 year old, we should be left to get on with what we do best. We are not experts in child development, we are not paediatricians, we are digital forensic experts. I’m going to wave this banner until something changes or I die, whichever comes first. Sadly, knowing the legal system in the UK I have a feeling I know which one will arrive most quickly.