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How officers process the horrors of child exploitation cases

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) Attorney General’s Office in Utah works hard to find and arrest those involved in the sexual exploitation of children. And often, making arrests involves viewing the evidence – horrific videos involving children being sexually abused. In this week’s Behind the Badge, we learn more about the task force and how working on the team affects them. 

“These people are heroes. The men and women of ICAC our heroes – there’s no other way to describe it.”

Jessica Farnsworth is a commander with the ICAC or Internet Crimes Against Children task force. She and her team find child sexual predators and those who deal in child porn.

“Watching videos of child pornography. You’re having to see the child’s pain and suffering and that is totally… you can’t even describe it.” 

Farnsworth says her officers and other law enforcement agencies just finished an operation that netted more than a dozen suspects. It was a pro-active sting which means via the internet, they found suspected predators before the predators found a child.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into the operations.” 

And there is a lot of work that goes into finding those dealing in child porn. Sadly, it requires officers to investigate the material involved.

“They have to sit down. The officer does. And has to go through all of those videos.”

Farnsworth who has been in law enforcement for 20 years says the people she works with are incredible officers.

“They are probably the strongest men and women I have ever known. And nobody really understands it unless you have been in the unit. Unless you have been on the task force – because you can’t describe it.” 

But even the strongest struggle with the pain and suffering of the children they are trying to protect.

“We became law enforcement officers to serve and protect people. Right. Were used to running into danger. In our unit we see crimes occur we are watching the crimes occur and you can’t do anything about it.  So, it’s a very powerless feeling for us.”

That helpless feeling, as well as the sickening crimes and horrific images involved in their work, can take their toll on officers. Farnsworth says that is why they have a wellness program and mandatory sessions with a clinical therapist.

“She measures our trauma level. She helps us do things in our lives that can reduce that trauma level. The content we have to deal with – looking at child pornography – takes a tremendous amount of emotional energy from our officers. It’s pretty soul-sucking, to say the least.”
    
The Attorney General ICAC team is one of 61 nationwide. Despite more and more arrests, Farnsworth says they’re seeing more and more crimes being committed against children.

“We are getting more referrals. We are getting more investigations. The content is getting worse. We are seeing more infants. More toddlers being sexually assaulted on these videos.”

While it is frustrating and painful, Farnsworth says her team is ready to take down anyone who hurts children. 

Just in the first three months of 2019, the ICAC task force has made 104 arrests. Last year they had a total of 226. To see past Behind the Badge stories or to nominate someone for a future story – go to www.abc4.com/badge.

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