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Father Who Sold Daughters to Be Raped and Used for Child Porn Sentenced to Life

Although we'd like to think it's rare, in the US there are currently 325,000 children at risk of sexual exploitation.

Diana Tourjée

Diana Tourjée

Photo by Thomas Hawk via Stocksy

In Tennessee, a father was sentenced to life in prison for selling his daughters to a man who raped them and produced child pornography of them. According to the Independent, police finally intervened when the girls were 12, 14, and 16 years old—two years after the abuse began.

The sexual abuse of children is always atrocious, difficult to comprehend. But these crimes often happen close to home, by a perpetrator the victim usually knows. Sixty percent of child victims were abused by someone in their social circle; 34 percent of those who commit child abuse are family members of their victims.

Read more: Teachers Are Using Instagram to Have Sex with Their Students

We'd like to think it is uncommon, but in the US there are 325,000 children at risk of sexual exploitation, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline reviewed 22 million photos and videos in 2013. That year, Raven Kaliana, a survivor of the child sex industry who was trafficked by her parents throughout her childhood and adolescence, told the Guardian about her abuse, explaining that she shares her story in order to demonstrate that this abuse is all around us.

Sociologist David Finkelhor is the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. In an interview with Broadly, Finklehor explained that cases like the one in Tennessee occur every year and that "some involve selling access to even younger children." One study found that 83 percent of people arrested for child pornography "had images involving children between the ages 6 and 12; 39% had images of children between ages 3 and 5; and 19% had images of infants and toddlers under age 3."

A common question is why a parent would subject their child to such trauma. "One motive is making money, and another is participating in the trade and status in the community of online sexual abusers," Finkelhor says. Kaliana was the primary source of income for her middle-class parents. The child porn films they sold her into paid their mortgage; a parent selling their kid(s) for sex can make upwards of $200,000 annually.

The mother in the Tennessee case was also arrested in relation to the abuse. She is serving an 18-year sentence for production of child pornography by a parent. Finkelhor says this isn't surprising: "You see both fathers and mothers engaged in this behavior."

Read more: Most Child Sex Abusers Are Not Pedophiles, Expert Says

The problem is so widespread that it is difficult to contain or end. Nonetheless, "law enforcement does engage in stings around this, advertising for access to kids as one prevention tactic," Finkelhor explains. In 2015 the FBI orchestrated a massive takedown of child pornography on the dark web—a sting operation called Operation Pacifier, which resulted in the takeover of a child porn site and resulted in the arrests of 137 people in the US—including a Christian rock lyricist. (The hacking operation was recently deemed illegal because the organization used a warrant from one state to do a nationwide investigation.)

Thorn is an organization fighting child sex trafficking. They put out information to help identify children who may be victims; warning signs include school absences and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Indeed, according to the Independent, the Tennessee man's abuse was uncovered after police investigated "a complaint that [the girls] were being neglected, had medical problems that were not being treated, and were not going to school." According to Thorn, kids often don't disclose the abuse they are suffering. Parents can inform their kids about this issue to reduce risk—but not if they are the abusers.