Note:One in Four's content is accessible to all versions of every browser. However, this browser may not support basic Web standards, preventing the display of our site's design details. We support the mission of the Web Standards Project in the campaign encouraging users to upgrade their browsers.


Child sexual abuse, while not new, still shocks

By Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

After Ross detectives interviewed Roderick Long in March, he had this to say: "I hope you don't think I'm a sicko."

If they did, they didn't admit it.

But plenty of other people who read about Long, 39, of Ross, think sicko is an understatement.

He's one of three local men charged in connection with the sexual abuse of a 2-year-old girl in Berks County whose mother is accused of selling her to men online for sex, advertising her as "Peanut."

In e-mails to the Post-Gazette, readers expressed horror at such depravity and wondered what the world is coming to.

Some also wanted to know just how many other men have assaulted the little girl, who now suffers from a venereal disease.

Federal authorities won't comment because the investigation is continuing.

But those who study crimes against children say this kind of thing, while horrible, is nothing particularly new or unusual.

"I've seen very old child pornography pictures where very young children are being penetrated," said retired FBI Agent Kenneth Lanning, formerly of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit in Quantico, Va., and a renowned child sex crimes expert who testified in the Long case.

"There have always been these kinds of cases. Certainly, over my career, I have heard of numerous cases where someone has offered their child for sex."

It is somewhat unusual for a 2-year-old to be a victim, he said, because more child molesters are interested in older children and teenagers than toddlers.

But it happens, and despite the understandable outrage over adults preying on such an innocent, Lanning urges a sense of perspective.

He said there was a tendency, even among police, to think that the scourge of child pornography and child abuse is worse than ever, when it really might not be.

When he went to law enforcement conferences on child sex abuse as an FBI agent, he said, it was easy to lose sight of the historical big picture.

"You would go to these conferences, and it was very depressing," he said. "You would think America is the most depraved, most disgusting nation on earth. But if you look throughout history, nowhere have children been better treated than in 20th-century America. Who knows, back in Europe in 1400, how many people were having sex with little baby girls?

"My attitude is that we have a large and serious problem, but let's not get carried away and get depressed. We have made a lot of progress."

Internet child sex rings

The real difference between now and times past is that the Internet allows people who share an interest in sex with children to get together online in the safety of their own homes.

In some cases, that forum presents them with more opportunity to act on their impulses than they otherwise would have had before the computer age.

In the case of the 2-year-old girl, the FBI says her mother, a 35-year-old who has lived in Buffalo, N.Y.; Emporium, Cameron County; and Mohnton, Berks County, had numerous conversations in chat rooms with men who like sex with children.

The Post-Gazette is not identifying her to protect the identity of the little girl.

Court papers and testimony indicate the woman sent pornographic pictures of her daughter to men, some of whom arranged to travel to the mobile home she shared with her boyfriend in Mohnton to have sex with her or the girl or both.

In some cases, according to court papers, she also performed sex acts on the girl and invited men to do the same. Her boyfriend, Richard D. King Jr., 42, also has been charged.

Without the Internet, the woman would not have had access to those customers, nor would they have known about her.

"Because of the Internet, they have the ability to communicate. The Internet has made these rings more possible," said retired FBI Agent Lawrence Likar, a professor at La Roche College who formerly headed the FBI's Crimes Against Children Task Force in Pittsburgh. "Has ring-type behavior always existed? Yes. But I'd bet money it has increased because of the Net."

In their online world, weirdos of all kinds can find kindred spirits.

"When you get involved with these Internet people, you find that there are people who talk about eating people, defecating on people, having sex with babies," Lanning said. "The Internet serves two purposes: Not only does it facilitate, but now it helps you rationalize and justify this kind of behavior. Suddenly you're part of a network of people who are doing this. And they're not telling you that you are a sick, disgusting weirdo."

The motives for various people involved in child sex abuse vary, but generally they can be broken down into two categories: situational and preferential.

Likar said the situational pedophile is someone who is not looking exclusively for children but will take advantage of an opportunity to molest one.

As an agent, he handled one case in Ohio in which a janitor at a home for retarded children raped 30 of them, but he said the man was not a true pedophile. Instead, he was the kind of indiscriminate predator who would have had sex with anything, including animals, and merely raped the children because he had access to them.

The preferential predator, on the other hand, is attracted to children exclusively and usually likes them of a certain age or sex.

The case of the 2-year-old seems to have attracted both kinds. Roderick Long, for example, told police he traveled to Mohnton to have sex with the woman, not the little girl, but when he got there he changed his mind because she was a "fat, disgusting pig."

He still went inside the mobile home, however, and said he watched as the woman brought her daughter out, put her in a playpen, removed her diaper, fondled her and invited Long to molest her, saying, "Well, this is what you're here for."

He told police he fantasized about molesting the girl but denied that he acted on it, although the woman said he did perform sex acts on the girl.

An example of the preferential pedophile might be another man charged in the case, Bernie Sherry, 25, of Bethel Park.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tina Miller has presented evidence that Sherry not only arranged for sex with the little girl in February, but that he also kept a notebook under his bed in which he kept track of neighborhood girls who played in a dollhouse in his back yard.

The FBI said one of the notebook entries was called "Plans for Operation Young," a plot to get a girl alone so he would have, in his words, "complete opportunity" to molest her.

'Like a spider web'

As the case unfolds, it could be that everyone involved will be shown to have different motives.

It's not clear, for example, exactly why the mother prostituted her child.

She collected money for nude pictures of the girl. But her e-mail conversations also indicate she was sexually frustrated. She said she could not sexually satisfy her boyfriend, whom she calls "Ricky," and indicated she was using her child as a lure to keep him around.

"He wants my daughter and will suck up to me to get her," she wrote to Long in December.

"What is it like to b jealous of ur own 2 yo daughter?" he wrote back.

Investigations of this kind can continue for months or years as agents pore over computers seized in searches to identify more suspects.

But Lanning said it was a mistake to think of such rings as organized in the manner of, say, a narcotics operation or a Mafia family.

"We tend to think of these things as a pyramid, where there's a boss," he said. "But these things are more like a spider web. When some people look at it they want to see a highly structured pyramid when it's really an interlocking network."

An example of that network is another prosecution that grew out of the Berks County case.

Last week federal agents arrested a 35-year-old Shaler man who was corresponding online with Wyndell Williams, 44, of West Mifflin, who in turn was corresponding with the mother of the 2-year-old.

The Shaler man was not involved with the 2-year-old, but agents said he showed Williams nude pictures of his own 4-year-old daughter taken with a Web camera and then offered her to Williams for sex in exchange for money.

To date, five people have been indicted in the case of the 2-year-old.

The mother and Richard King Jr. were arrested in November and charged in Williamsport, Lycoming County, with transporting the girl from Buffalo to King's mobile home in Mohnton for sex. Both are being held without bond.

Williams is charged in Williamsport with lying during testimony for the woman during a March detention hearing. He has been released pending trial, although agents are still conducting a forensic examination of his computer.

Sherry and Long, both accused of traveling to have sex with the 2-year-old, are being held pending trial.

The Shaler man, charged in connection with prostituting his 4-year-old, has been released to his father in Butler and ordered to stay away from his family. The Post-Gazette is not naming him to protect the identity of his daughter.


Contact information

Run for and by people who have experienced sexual abuse.