RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's the new face of child pornography: molesters are downloading cartoon images of children having sex with adults. Officers across the Commonwealth, including in Richmond, are actually rescuing children by using these offensive cartoons.
One video law enforcement uses is one of the most downloaded animated child pornography videos on the Internet. A cartoon girl performs a sex act on a man. When it's over, fireworks go off, balloons are released and the man claps.
Possessing this video alone isn't illegal. What is illegal is how you get it and then use it.
"What law enforcement actually knows is animated child pornography is used to groom children," said Camille Cooper. Cooper is with the National Association to Protect Children. She has helped pass laws across the country, including in Virginia, to protect children from child molesters.
"Offenders collect the material, they expose children to it that they want to molest, it lowers the child's inhibitions and it normalizes sex acts," said Cooper. "That's what it's used for and therefore, isn't a victimless crime."
Not everyone agrees with Cooper. At the Virginia Court of Appeals, federal defense attorney Robert Wagner once argued in a landmark case that animated child pornography is and should remain legal.
In 2004, Wagner defended Richmond resident Dwight Whorley. Whorley, a registered sex offender, went to the Virginia Employment Commission office and downloaded 20 cartoon images of female children being forced to have sex with men.
Since he used the Internet to receive the pornography, he was prosecuted under federal law.
"Dwight Whorley got 20 years for that offense and I think that is unconscionable," said Wagner. "In animated child pornography videos, there is no victim and there's no exploitation of children."
Wagner believes animated child pornography isn't dangerous but says the statute his client was prosecuted under is.
"I think that places far too much power on a prosecutor to use this statute to prosecute people who really aren't dangerous," he said.
There is no indication Whorley molested children or used pornography for grooming. Richmond Detective Kevin Hiner says, that isn't always the case.
Hiner says, he uses animated child pornography as a marker.
"If we have a cyber tip come in and we see a lot of animated child porn that is a huge indicator that they are probably looking at real child pornography and that will start our investigative process," Hiner said.
He says the problem is a pandemic, and Richmond isn't immune.
"We've been in every neighborhood, we've been in government housing and some of the nicest neighborhoods in the Metro-Richmond area," Hiner said.
Detective Hiner said, while he and his colleagues won't arrest someone for possessing cartoon kiddie porn alone, officers around the state are being trained to use animated child pornography to protect your kids.
Richmond police say they are backlogged with the number of offenders they need to arrest. However, if someone has access to children and is downloading either type of child pornography, that offender goes to the front of the line so officers have a better chance of rescuing an abused child.