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Russia: Calls made for crack down on vice

Publish Date: 27 Sep 2005

Source: The St. Petersburg Times
By Henry Meyer, Associated Press

Calls made for crack down on vice

MOSCOW — Russia must take urgent measures to stem a rapid growth in child pornography on the Internet and child sex trafficking that makes the country a major supplier for the global pedophilia market, Russian and international experts warned on Monday.

Russia’s parliament toughened the law in December 2003 by making it a crime for someone to produce, store and distribute child pornography. Until then, the law did not distinguish between pornography that involved adults and minors.

The Interior Ministry says around 50 criminal cases have since been launched, resulting in several convictions for distributing pornographic images of children. But a top Russian expert in the field, Yelena Mizulina, criticized what she termed the “pathetically short jail terms” that threaten offenders.

In two recent convictions, a Moscow court sentenced a man identified only as Kuznetsov to three years for distributing child pornography, including sex acts involving minors, while another man in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg got a three-year suspended sentence for a similar offense.

“In the U.S, people can get 25 to 30 years for this kind of thing,” remarked Terry Kinney, a prosecutor from Chicago who is resident legal adviser at the U.S. embassy and organized a three-day conference in Moscow aimed at highlighting the problem.

The U.S. deputy chief of mission, Daniel Russell, acknowledged that U.S. pedophiles provided a lucrative market for sexual images of Russian children, but said action was needed to shut down Russian-based Web sites.

“The U.S. is fueling demand for child pornography Web sites but we need your help to stop this. Only through the collective efforts of our law enforcement agencies can we close down child pornography Web sites,” he said.

The Internet child pornography industry is flourishing, despite high-profile examples of joint cooperation such as the U.S.-Russian investigation that in 2001 busted a global pornographic ring called Blue Orchid, which had distributed pedophile videotapes from Moscow.

In just a 10-day period earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice logged 350 reports of child pornography, Russell said. He pointed out that victims were getting younger, with infants abused, and the use of violence was growing.

With each child pornography Web site estimated to earn up to $30,000 a month, Russia has seen a huge growth in this criminal activity.

At a click of the mouse, under the Russian search engine Yandex dozens of sites featuring explicit pedophile sex scenes can be accessed, Mizulina pointed out.

Mizulina, a deputy head of the legal department of the Russian lower house of parliament, accused the Russian authorities of doing little to tackle the criminal industry.

“The reason why child pornography is spreading in Russia is because law enforcement agencies are doing a bad job at keeping it in check,” she said.

Last year, a man was filmed online having sex with an underage girl in a drab Moscow apartment. But despite police managing to trace the criminals, the suspects had already fled when officers arrived, said Mizulina, who hinted that corrupt law enforcement officials may have tipped them off.

UNICEF’s representative in Russia, Carel de Rooy, agreed tougher measures must be taken.

“Many people involved in the sexual exploitation of children in Russia go unpunished. The penalties are still low, they have to be much harsher,” the U.N official said.

Many of the victims in Russia are believed to come from the growing ranks of homeless children, who are estimated to number at least 750,000. According to a Ministry of Education survey in 2002, almost 8 percent of Russian homeless children said they had been paid for sex.

Kinney of the U.S. embassy said Russia needed to develop witness protection programs and involve non-governmental organizations to persuade fearful victims to testify.

Boris Gavrilov, deputy chief of the Interior Ministry’s investigative committee, conceded that major work lay ahead.

“We have only begun to address this problem in the last two to three years,” he said.

Copyright © 2005 The St. Petersburg Times