CEO, Kids' Internet Safety Alliance, CA

Published Date: 5th July 2010

Open Windows | In Conversation

CEO, Kids' Internet Safety Alliance, CA

July 5th, 2010

When the creators of the World Wide Web were deciding on what to name their beast of an invention, they settled on “web” because of its ability to connect outwardly to almost anything. More than a decade and a half later, the reality of just what “anything” can include has finally set in. If the Internet is a web, it is a tangled mess that reaches to dark and dusty corners that are home to depravity of the worst kind.

Finding the spider in the web (literally) is tough, because of its nature. Paul Gillespie, CEO of Kids’ Internet Safety Alliance, dares to go to the darkest recesses of depravity in the world of child abuse to weed out the nastiness and spear justice for children.

Kinsa was born before you retired as the Officer in Charge of the Child Exploitation Section, Toronto Police Service. What motivated you to start Kinsa along with Bill Hutchinson?

For me to continue the international work I was doing and take it to the next level without being responsible for the hands-on investigations I was doing, as well as to foster better relationships with industry, government, and other NGOs, it was the logical decision to start Kinsa.


How can the horrific crimes against vulnerable children be termed as child pornography? I think it will be appropriate to refer to child abuse images as child exploitation or child abuse images.

Great question. I hate the term child pornography. Pornography itself has this underlying sense that it maybe something too sexual, dirty, and suggestive. When people think of pornography, they think of adult pornography, but I do not believe it does justice to these horrible images where kids are tortured.

You can use it as the term child pornography is in the criminal code. We have been trying to lobby to have that changed to images of child abuse or sexual assault images or something different in the same way that the United Kingdom and Australia have changed in using that term.


During this interview, we will refer to these images as child exploitation or child abuse images.

How has technology made it easy for predators to share and have access to child exploitation images?

When I started this work, it was overwhelming because of the Internet, and all things that went with it exploded on most of us who were not technical. Now, having spent ten years, it is mind-boggling how the companies in IT, software, hardware, everybody in that sector keep coming up with great ways to share information and connect through social networking, and the second they are launched, criminals are using these systems and methods to their advantage. I would like to make a reference to file sharing, where it might seem like a good idea, like when Napster started and others followed suit, but those with a sexual interest in children immediately saw the value of using these same sharing methods.

As law enforcement has moved forward in the last few years and developed techniques to watch these images being shared, almost look up in the sky and see these images go back and forth, with an ability to find out where they originated, the numbers are staggering. Every city in the world is sharing these horrible images. I think technology has opened an enormous window for us to see a lot of darkness on the other side.


Kinsa has worked with Microsoft to develop the Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS). Is it currently available in languages other than English and French, and how can this tool be implemented by law enforcement agencies around the world?

The system is an intelligence database allowing only law enforcement to work, share, store, and conduct sophisticated analysis of the volumes of information in seized computers.

In regards to the languages, they have been running in Spanish because of Spain and Chile and in Portuguese in Brazil. It is up and running in about ten countries as of now. Part of the deployment process is to determine which country is suitable to use it and to make it available in their native language.


How do you enlighten and encourage countries that are resistant to join the global movement, to fight this borderless crime and protect children?

Often there is strong will in every country to recognize child abuse that is destroying the trust of our children, who are our future. There are also parts of the world where issues relating to children and women are not a priority. It comes down to the laws of the land. The number one challenge we have is with the justice systems in some countries and with lawyers who have set up different systems, what they will allow and to what degree they will share their information. Many countries are not permitted to share information. Plus there are many organizations that will not share these images.

Let us say in an international investigation that must occur when we are actively working with Interpol, there are countries whose laws will not allow them to send these photographs to Interpol because they are child exploitation images. Whereas we see them as evidence of a crime in the same sense if we have a homicide or a bombing investigation with horrible images. We will not stop sharing the information because it is against one’s laws. I do believe that this has to start with a grassroots movement. It is no good to talk to senior decision-makers who are 50 and 60 years old and technophobic. When they hear of computers and investigations, all they see are dollar signs flying out the window.


Are certain countries willing to overlook the criminal factor as long as it brings in the revenue in the name of tourism?

I will certainly acknowledge that some areas of the world are challenged by geographic and environmental conditions, as well as some other factors that lead to poverty, which leads to corruption that might be seen as “sex tourism destinations.” I do not blame those countries. I blame Western nations that allow their citizens to travel to those countries to exploit the most vulnerable. I cannot think of anything worse than places that have just had a natural disaster, be it a typhoon, a tsunami or an earthquake, and men from the West go and exploit these children.


Why are crimes taking place at an unprecedented rate?

This crime of child abuse has been around forever. The former head of the FBI eloquently captured it when he said, “It is an age-old crime combined with modern technology.” So the crime has been around forever, we were never aware of how bad it was. The Internet, the ability to communicate with anybody in the world, to do whatever one wants and to remain anonymous without being liable or responsible has unfortunately also given criminals the ability to exploit in any field they choose and be almost uncatchable.


We are talking specifically about child abuse, but brutalities are rampant—the homeless getting beaten, women stripped and raped in public, we simply watch or walk away. What is making us apathetic?

Well, I think different forms of mass communications, media, movies and the Internet. Everything is available instantaneously. Every time a bad situation occurs, somebody captures it on video, and one watches it on TV or the Internet. Also, the exploitive nature of the movies of the day where it seems like anything goes. When I was growing up movies would have been rated X or 18 or 21, and now they are rated 14A. I do not want my kids to see such brutal violence.

To be honest, I am not as worried about natural sexual activity between consenting adults as I am about the horrible brutality and the mind-numbing games that are out there. I do not understand it, but I certainly know that is why people have less regard, and perhaps less sensitivity to some of the horrible things that do happen in life. It is in their face all the time and when kids are growing up thinking that this is natural, how can we expect different results.


What about the role of parenting in creating a harmonious environment?

I think if parents are willing to put the time into raising their children well, it makes all the difference in the world, and we end up having a much more productive society. Everybody is hurrying; everybody has communication devices, Blackberries or iPhones. The thing that gets lost in this is the time parents spend with their children. By and large, spending time talking, paying attention to what your kids are doing, getting involved in what they are doing is crucial.

If they are on the computer, explain the rules and check whether they are doing what they are told to do. When a seven-year-old does whatever he wants on the Internet, I do not think that is appropriate. I think parents need to set restrictions and at an age-appropriate level allow more responsibility. It just seems that the Internet has changed a lot of parents; they see it as a babysitter. That is just very unfortunate.

We have a real problem, especially in Canada, where parents, I think, have forgotten how to say no. The investment by the parents into their kids will pay off many times over, but unfortunately, with two jobs and the pursuit of materialistic things, it is just not the way it was. That is okay, things are allowed to change, but I do not think it will be a bad idea if we take a step back from technology and remember the important part of our lives and our family and friends.


Is there a pattern of behavior within the home that makes children feel isolated or lonely, which then draws them to the Internet?

There are two issues. First of all, the children who are vulnerable and on the Internet are typically the loners.

Pedophiles with a particular interest in children are very, very good at identifying somebody who is vulnerable and susceptible to their charms.

They are willing to spend days, weeks, months and even years trying to groom a relationship on the Internet. They are typically going after somebody who may not have the influence of both parents in their lives, who may be lonely and shy. Second, the horrible pictures on the Internet of child abuse and child exploitation are not stranger-based. The abusers are people who have the trust of the child or who are allowed to take care of the child, the father, the uncle, the coach or the priest.


Explain the comfort of anonymity, for both the criminal and the victim.

The reality of the day is that the criminals, with just a little bit of sophistication, can not only be anonymous but can also remain anonymous. Therefore, they think they can commit a crime with little chance of being caught. On the other hand, a very lonely child with no friends at school gets online, and all of a sudden he can have a lot of friends. And maybe he will not tell the truth about who he is and what he does. They find a greater comfort and confidence in this sort of surreal life that they are inventing. On some levels, this is not surprising.


A child is destroyed when he/she is victimized.  It also creates a ripple effect on the family and society. Can you shed light on the depth and severity of this violence?

I have often thought of this. In the last ten years, along with others, I have been trying to get the message across about the long-term effects of abuse. Once a child is abused, other than the fact that they very rarely recover their full sense of trust, most go on to make very poor life decisions. They often turn to some substance abuse, eventually when they get older coming to grips with it only with the help of ongoing therapy with psychologists.

Every time I have done major press conferences, I am inundated with victims who are now in their 30’s, 40’s, and 60’s—lawyers, policemen, from all walks of life who have never told anyone about this. They want to know what they should do and how they should deal with this. They feel this horrible sense of blame that it must have been their fault. It is often 20 or 30 years later that they can disclose what happened. It ruins a person’s life. If you put a financial number on it, when we look at all the medical care, the psychological care, and other expenses at the end of a lifetime, it’s almost like a cancer victim. Maybe then people will start to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem.

The family unit is a very troubling dynamic. Often it will be the father or someone very close to the family committing the abuse. And there are often cases where the mother or others in the family will know, but it’s such a horrible thing, they don’t want to admit it.

They often think that the financial situation within the family will change for the worse. And often the blame comes to the victim, so many different things occur. But it destroys human beings and the family unit. Recovering from sexual abuse is impossible.


As I try to comprehend the vastness of this issue and attempt to draw a map representing the ripple effect across the continents, I am overwhelmed by the mammoth nature of this abuse that permeates into every layer of life.

Exactly. A boss of mine used to say, “Think about it, every one of us knows somebody who has been abused or know of an abuser. Just think how widespread it is, this spider web.” We need to put more time and effort and money from all sections of society into the problem itself and find a better way to deal with it. I wish we would put significant resources into trying to figure out what about these men, making horrible decisions to abuse children, caused them to be this way and somehow alter that. To find a simple treatment or simply remove that gene or that piece of DNA that causes them to be this way so we can stop the abuse from happening.


In certain cultures, like the one I come from, sexual abuse is kept under wraps. In the bargain, one ends up protecting generations of abuse, passing it down to future generations.

I have been to those areas of the world, and I have had very general statements made to me that they do not abuse children in their culture. I tell them to pick any city in their country, and I will show them, using our software, in 24 hours how many people have traded these horrible images, of three-year-olds being raped. And I tell them that we know that almost one in every two individuals who share these images are hands-on abusers.

We will show them perhaps 1,000 or 2,000 people in their city and show them all the evidence, and they will still say it must be wrong. Their culture will not allow them to admit it, maybe privately but not publicly. They have to realize that they, in fact, have the same problem that everyone else in the world does. It is not a cultural thing; it is not based on population, a big city or a rural area. You can have the worst bad guy in a big city or a small city, any country in the world. It is a man thing; it is an inability to control himself.


Over the years I have watched and read reports of outright denials by abusers (men and women), claiming to be family people. Unfortunately, most predators’ families rally and support them. How does it make the victim feel? And what would you like to tell families who are nurturing and enabling a criminal, and in the process ruining lives?

First and foremost they need to understand that by the time these people are caught they probably have multiple victims. The fact that they would choose to believe the offender even in the face of all the evidence is ridiculous. I have seen this a lot. We have videos, pictures, and statements from the plaintiff, and the entire predator’s family will blame the victim, even if she is a six-year-old, saying she must have wanted it. I think they need a reality check. They need to step back and think if this were another family and they were presented with the exact story would they be acting the same?

The reality is that a lot of times the predator will have such an influence on the family, whether it is financial stability or just a good con man, to convince them that it was not that bad. And on the other side of that you have a victim who will never be the same, never live up to their full potential that they could have had.


The persisting belief is that the larger percentage of sexual assaults are committed by men—single, economically poor, and of colour, when in fact it could very well be women, wealthy individuals, and married people with a perfectly coiffed image.

First of all, their socioeconomic conditions do not matter. Offenders are within the range of being poor to extremely wealthy.

What we do find is that the wealthier offenders get, they are often able to conduct their lifestyle of abuse in a way with less fear of getting caught. Some of the worst, organized, dangerous groups on the Internet are more educated and of a socially upper class.

So, it is impossible to generalize, but I can certainly say that it is not poor people of colour. That is absolutely untrue.


The male gender—infants, young boys, and adolescents are sexually abused. Why are they denied the platform and coverage the female gender—infants, young girls, and women are extended?

That is a good question. What I can tell you about boys being abused compared to girls is that it is a relatively high percentage, not as high as girls but almost the same. First, the challenge is that it is tough to get a boy to disclose sexual assault or sexual abuse, especially when they get to the age of 10 to 13, as it is almost impossible because of the embarrassment. Second, maybe it felt good, and they were confused. Offenders are good at putting a lot of bad ideas and guilty thoughts into their minds. So the majority of calls that I get are 40 and 50-year-old men who 35 years ago were forced to do something and were never able to get over the shame of it.


Could they have had a better quality of life had they sought help earlier?

Absolutely. Just think about how many potential doctors, scientists, prime ministers, and presidents were never allowed to fulfill their destiny because of this horrific incident that changed them forever. The abuse that broke their trust caused them to start making poor life decisions and changed who they should have become. That is one of the immeasurable consequences of these horrific crimes. It drives me crazy that people don’t get this.


Also, better relationships within their family.

I will give you an example of this and the weight it puts on tiny shoulders. On more than one occasion I have gotten a call from a young girl who was abused horribly, and her images, from when she was four, five, six-years-old were shared. We almost watch them grow up on the Internet and were involved in finding and rescuing them. Then add a few years to that, and she does not know if she should tell her boyfriend, or, later on, getting married, tell him or show him the pictures. She knows it is on the Internet because they never go away; that is the added stigma. To be abused as a child is just horrible. Can you possibly imagine that the most horrific time of one’s life is out there forever, and men are pleasuring themselves over this? How can it possibly get any worse than that?


I feel utterly outraged.

It is sad, it is pathetic, and we do not do justice to the victims by sugar-coating it and not calling it what it is. And we do not do justice to the victims by not putting more resources into this to keep it from happening to future victims. Look at the money we are spending on a number of things. Let’s talk about the security around the G8–G20. If we put a fraction of those resources into this, it will go a long way in helping us keep kids and future generations safe.


Do you provide counseling to officers who are assigned to view and sift through millions of disturbing child abuse images, for their sanity and emotional well-being?

As soon as I saw the first picture, I knew I was ruined forever, and there is no other way to put that. Kinsa does not provide counseling but back in the trauma police, seven to eight years back, we started an informal and a formal counseling program. Officers had to attend. We cannot force them to talk, but we had to make available psychiatrists and counselors. Those processes are now in place in most areas of the world, including Canada, where officers are required to have psychological testing before, during and after the tenure.

Kinsa trains and brings in officers from around the world, to be better cybercops. We spend half a day on health and wellness because this is an area that is not adequately addressed yet. The well-being of the investigator who spends a considerable amount of time on this is important.


Are there incidents where no matter the diligence of your team, something falls through the cracks jeopardizing the entire case?

How about every day? Whether you are looking at the image itself, like a CSI behind the scenes, questioning where the evidence might lead to, where the picture was taken to identify the offender, whether we had a complaint from the abused, we took all the statements and nothing happened in the end, the witness refused to testify, somebody made mistakes with the paperwork, the judge was more sympathetic than he should have been—this is a regular occurrence. To do your best is simply not good enough. One thing you learn as a law enforcement officer is that it is not that unusual, and all you can do is act in good faith. And sometimes things are just out of your hands.


Is child sexual abuse getting more attention in society today? If yes, is it making a difference?

The awareness of child abuse is increasing. I see it the same way that AIDS was in the early 80’s—it was something we did not talk about, and now there is a global awareness. As we shine a brighter light on this, and as the law enforcement efforts around the world get much better, I am confident at some point we will catch the most dangerous guys out there. I read this in the newspaper, “Knowing that you might be looking for me is the only thing that kept me alive.”

We need to shine the light, so victims know that we are not going to give up and that we are going to get them out of that situation. And if they can find the strength to call somebody they trust, they have to do that.

What is the future of Kinsa?

My current goal with Kinsa is to help globalize the police response. Although there are no global laws, there are brilliant people out there working in special areas, and it is the cop on the cyber beat who is going to be responsible for making a difference. My long-term goal is to help developing nations get to a level where they can use the Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS). And my ultimate goal is that this database evolves into the global human trafficking system. I only see that success coming from a global effort and ability to work together, and that is what I want to help facilitate.


Your line of work is intense. What motivates you to start all over again the next day?

Knowing we are doing great work with an excellent team. We have been successful in identifying and rescuing children, building on associations around the world where officers can identify and rescue a child from a different country. These stories of making a difference in children’s lives and preventing abuse from future generations keep us going.