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Crime and Courts

Colorado’s child pornography laws have a major loophole and criminals are “slipping through the cracks”

House Bill 1120 seeks to bring state law into the 21st century by allowing prosecutors to go after people who view -- but don’t necessarily download, share or produce -- child porn

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A few years ago, authorities in Larimer County discovered a chat room hosted by a man who was using it to share cloud-based links to child pornography between 30 people. 

While they were able to successfully track down and convict the chatroom host, they were almost powerless to do anything about the 29 others who were trading the illicit images. 

That’s because Colorado requires someone to possess, produce or distribute child pornography to be convicted under the state’s laws shielding children from being exploited. Since the images were distributed via Dropbox — a service that hosts data on the cloud — and weren’t technically in the possession of any of the other people in the chatroom, bringing a case against those people appeared to be a waste of time. 

“Since we didn’t think we were going to be able to prosecute it,” said Brian Hardouin, the Larimer County deputy district attorney who handled the case, “we didn’t pursue it.” 

Colorado lawmakers this year are working to bring the state’s child pornography laws into the 21st century with House Bill 1120, which would add accessing child porn with the intent to view it to behavior barred under the state’s statutes. 

In addition to helping prosecutors go after people who share cloud-based child pornography images, it will also allow authorities to pursue criminal charges against those who livestream child exploitation. The New York Times last year shared a chilling account of a video conference on Zoom, the business-conference calling service, where more than a dozen men were watching another man rape a 6-year-old boy and making requests about how the child be treated.

The bipartisan measure passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday by an 8-0 vote. It now heads to the chamber’s finance committee. 

The legislation, sponsored by state Reps. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, and Terri Carver, a Colorado Springs Republican, is supported by Colorado prosecutors and the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance.

From left: Reps. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, and Terri Carver, a Colorado Springs Republican. (Handouts)

“The last time that the statutes were updated surrounding this subject we were talking about the possession of Polaroid pictures and VHS tapes,” said Roberts, a prosecutor in Eagle County. “That is obviously not the world we live in anymore. The statute that we currently have is simply inadequate to protect our children.”

He added: “There are many, many people slipping through the cracks who are committing things that we would all believe to be a crime.” 

House Bill 1120 would also add funding to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to help them reduce the backlog of devices that need to be combed through for child pornography. 

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Amanda Gall, a sex crimes expert with the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, said there has been a sharp rise in the number of Colorado-linked images referred to state law enforcement from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. 

In 2017, NCMEC reported about 2,000 instances of child porn connected with Colorado locations. In 2018, there were more than 3,700. 

Meanwhile, prosecutors were only able to bring a few hundred — if that — cases forward. “We just don’t have the resources to keep up with this crazy proliferation,” Gall said. 

Finally, the legislation would also increase potential penalties for child pornography that depicts children under 12 and kids who are subjected to physical force or sadomasochism.


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