The images are horrific. Children, some just 3 or 4 years old, being sexually abused and in some cases tortured. Pictures of child sexual abuse have long been produced and shared to satisfy twisted adult obsessions. But it has never been like this: Technology companies reported a record 45 million online photos and videos of the abuse last year.
“Historically, you would never have gone to a black market shop and asked, ‘I want real hard-core with 3-year-olds,’” said Yolanda Lippert, a prosecutor in Cook County, Ill., who leads a team investigating online child abuse. “But now you can sit seemingly secure on your device searching for this stuff, trading for it.”