MOSCOW, RUSSIA – Keen, bright-eyed and earnest, the little boy answers the Russian investigator’s questions enthusiastically, as if describing a cartoon, not sexual abuse.
“He took off my underwear and photographed me,” says the victim, whom Russian authorities are not allowing to be identified.
The boy goes on to describe sexual abuse at the hands of his own father. Without this testimony, child advocates say, it would be impossible to convict the man, whose trial begins later this year.
In Russia, possessing child pornography is not a crime and laws that govern child exploitation are weak. Government authorities say the majority of sexual crimes against children are never reported or investigated.
Those are among the reasons that even the Russian government admits the country is a world leader in the production of child pornography.
Russian lawmaker Elena Mizulina has been painstakingly shepherding a bill through the country’s parliament that would finally protect children.
“For the first time people will be held criminally responsible for storing child pornography even if they don’t distribute it. To this day, you can’t punish anyone for that” in Russia, Mizulina said. The bill has now passed its second of three readings in Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of the legislature.
The law can’t come soon enough for victims. According to Russia’s Investigative Committee, more than 800 cases of sexual abuse were reported in the first three months of this year, an increase of 13%.
“Analysis of such crimes indicates that sexual assaults against the integrity of minors and their rights and freedoms is mostly stemming from the lack of control by parents, guardians, as well as officials of educational institutions and local government officials,” said Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee.
Yet even with stronger laws, it is the testimony of young children that will ultimately bring punishment to those who prey on children.
Yevgeny Tsymbal, director of a Children’s Psychology Center in Moscow, told CNN that weak laws and lack of evidence usually help the abusers avoid detection and punishment.
“These crimes usually go on for a long time,” he said, adding that because physical signs of abuse are often not apparent, “these crimes are very rarely discovered.”
The Internet is also a haven for child pornographers in Russia. This week, the Kremlin’s child advocate, Pavel Astakhov, spoke in favor of a more stringent policy to force Internet providers to take responsibility for child pornography sites hosted on their servers and social networks.
“A person who wants to find this content on the Internet, this person can do it pretty easily,” said Mark Tverdynin, director of Saferunet.ru, an initiative that is trying to scrub the Russian Internet clean of child pornography. The charity says it shut down as many as 7,000 such sites this past fall and winter.