A federal jury has convicted a 33-year-old man Indiana named Lorenzo Johnson of using Facebook to blackmail people into sending him explicit sexual images of children.
Johnson, a registered sex offender, used a fake Facebook account to identify women in financial trouble who also had access to children, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said. He then offered the women money in exchange for sexually explicit photos of the kids.
Johnson convinced three women to send him photos of infants and young kids being sexually abused. Legal authorities charged the women as his co-conspirators. All three women have been indicted for conspiring to produce child pornography, the DOJ said.
A jury convicted Johnson of three counts of conspiracy to produce child pornography, one count of distribution of child pornography and one charge for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He now faces a possible prison sentence ranging from 25 to 180 years. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 17.
“The expansion of the Internet has led to an explosion in the market for child pornography,” the DOJ said in a 2016 report to Congress. But while the issue is a worldwide problem, the U.S. remains one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of child sexual abuse content, according to Thorn, a firm dedicated to using technology to fight such content.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reviews over 25 million images of alleged child sex abuse each yearâ€”over 480,769 images per week. An increasing amount of child sex abuse content occurs over live-streaming where consumers pay to watch a child being violated live in real-time.
“This type of abuse is incredibly difficult to detect, due to its real-time nature and the lack of digital evidence left behind following the crime,” a 2020 Thorn report said.
People convicted of child sex abuse charges fare poorly in prison. In August 2015, CBS News reported that prison inmates known for having sexual interest in minors sometimes face a “living hell” behind bars, often occupying the lowest rung of the prisoner hierarchy. Other inmates will sometimes defecate in their cells, use them as sex slaves or target them for violence and murder as a way to gain prestige.
Such offenders are sometimes placed into protective custody, but even there they’re despised by other prisoners who derisively refer to them as “Chesters,” “short eyes,” “tree jumpers” or “chomos,” a slang neologism made from “child” and “molester.”
Newsweek contacted the Justice Department for comment.