CAMDEN, Maine — With child pornography crimes the fastest-growing crime in America, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Mainers often feel like there’s nothing they can do to stop it. But a former educator from Rockport is stepping up and hoping to lead the way for others to help change that.
Mary Orear, who founded a nonprofit organization 17 years ago aimed at empowering girls, is not the kind of person to wring her hands and look away from something she finds troubling. Instead, the executive director of Mainely Girls is now working to raise $100,000 to purchase a mobile forensic lab for the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit.
“I believe people are very frustrated by reading for the last few years about child sexual abuse — by coaches, by teachers, by doctors, by the clergy. And now all of this child pornography — we in the general public feel helpless to do anything,” she said Friday. “By making a donation to help purchase this vital piece of equipment, people feel as if they are doing something to help.”
That aid is sorely needed, she and others say. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said in 2011 that the country has seen “ a historic rise in the distribution of child pornography, in the number of images being shared online, and in the level of violence associated with child exploitation and sexual abuse crimes. Tragically, the only place we’ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims.”
The growing backlog of cases at the Vassalboro-based unit could be reduced if investigators had better equipment than the two retrofitted GMC cargo vans currently used. Lt. Glenn Lang said last week that the vans just don’t have the space or power to preview computers outside the homes of people suspected to have downloaded, shared or even created child pornography.
“It’s not a great set up. We’ve been trying to band-aid it together for awhile now,” Lang said. “One of the things we’re hoping with the new vehicle is that we’ll have sufficient power to run desktop units. That will allow us to run previews much more efficiently.”
He said that he sends teams into the field between one and four times a week to investigate suspected cases of child pornography. They arrest between 70 and 80 Mainers a year, generally on charges related to possession of child pornography. But Lang said that investigators now know that the bulk of child pornography is produced in the United States, with some even made in Maine. Better equipment might mean that authorities can help rescue children who are victimized, like in the cases of two Maine men investigated on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography.
Wade Robert Hoover of Augusta pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in February for production of child pornography and was sentenced in July to 40 years in federal prison. He awaits trial dates in Kennebec and Somerset counties for multiple charges of gross sexual assault against two children. Patrik Ian Arsenault of Norridgewock was arrested in August on charges of sexually assaulting two children and distributing photographs of the assaults over the Internet. The former special education teacher has pleaded not guilty of the crimes.
With a new mobile forensic lab, Lang said, the state’s ability to help children will grow.
“This is a community problem. When you see someone in a community step up like this and say ‘I want to make a difference,’ it means everything to us,” he said of Orear’s efforts.
So far, after receiving special permission from the Maine attorney general’s office to fundraise for a state agency, Orear has raised a quarter of the goal. People have given donations of $5 to $2,000, and Orear hopes that local businesses, especially those that deal with technology, also will step up to help.
She said her decision to learn more about the problem and help solve it hasn’t always been easy.
“People say, ‘Oh, it’s a victimless crime.’ It’s not a victimless crime in any way,” she said. “A lot of what Mainely Girls has done — it’s about empowerment. But in this case, these children and adolescents are victims, and somebody else has to help rescue them. They can’t rescue themselves.”