Nowhere has it been more of a problem in recent times than with the internet and advancements in how people produce, distribute and view child pornography.
Reps. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, and Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, hope to move Colorado’s statutes into the 21st century, and last week won a unanimous vote from the House Judiciary Committee on a bill to modernize the criminal justice statutes on child pornography.
House Bill 1120 ups the sentences for those who traffic in child pornography, and are bringing into the law those who view or produce child pornography using the latest internet technology.
The bill aligns state law on this technology with fines and sentences meted out to human traffickers, Carver told Colorado Politics this week.
It makes certain kinds of sexual exploitation of a child “an extraordinary risk” crime. That’s a crime that poses a substantial risk of harm to society and which carries a sentence enhancement. To date, 10 felony crimes have been defined as extraordinary risk, such as aggravated robbery, child abuse and stalking, along with several crimes tied to sex abuse, such as human trafficking for involuntary or sexual servitude, and invasion of privacy tied to sexual gratification (i.e., taking nude photos of someone without their knowledge).
Under the bill, the enhancement applies to acts that involve a child under 12 years old, a child who is subjected to physical force or violence; or one who is raped, including in sadomasochism.
The enhanced penalty for crimes tied to HB 1120 is an addition of between six months and four years, depending on the class of felony.
Carver said the issue came to her from a detective in the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
Cyber tips on child pornography coming to law enforcement in Colorado, she said, are growing yearly. In 2017, about 2,000 reports of child pornography internet sites were received; by 2019 it was more than 3,700. And more of those sites involve younger victims.
The bill is supported by the National Human Trafficking Survivors Coalition, which is run by Kelly Dore of Douglas County.
Roberts said when statutes were last updated, “we were talking about VHS and Polaroids.” Many people are slipping through the cracks and committing these crimes, but because the law is outdated they aren’t always being prosecuted.
“We will always be behind technology,” Roberts said, but this will bring Colorado out of the bottom tier of states in protecting children against being sexually exploited.
A fact sheet for HB 1120 says that the bill includes terms “that capture a perpetrator’s access to this material,” wherever found, although it specifically calls out live-streaming of child pornography. Carver said that in some cases, a customer would order a specific sex act on a child from a child pornographer.
Brian Harduoin is a deputy district attorney in Larimer County. His background includes a degree in electrical engineering, and at that time, he told the committee, “I learned about the promise of technology.”
After law school and becoming a district attorney, however, he saw a different side. Four years ago, he joined a special victims unit that specializes in internet crimes against children, and said he saw the most unspeakable acts imaginable.
In Larimer County, a chat room was used by 30 people to exchange links to cloud-based accounts that had images and videos of children being used for sexual purposes. One of those videos showed a rape of an infant, Harduoin said.
As introduced, HB 1120 would set up a grant program to provide funding for forensic assistance to law enforcement or prosecutors, but that was amended out of the bill, Carver said, when the Colorado Bureau of Investigation pointed out it already had a program for this purpose. That will knock out most of the bill’s estimated $101,460 cost for 2020-21 and $157,510 for 2021-22.
HB 1120 drew no opposition in the Feb. 4 hearing, and it now heads to the House Finance Committee and a Feb. 13 hearing. In the Senate, it will be sponsored by Sens. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.