CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Last year, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation worked hundreds of child pornography cases just within the WBTV viewing area. Hundreds of cases. It's a disturbing crime with helpless victims, and the accused criminals range from a school teacher to a church deacon.
But WBTV discovered the other victims of child pornography, the families of those accused.
"I used to have the preconceived notion it was the monster, the stereotypical guy that hangs out at the park and that's not really who it is anymore," said Special Agent Alan Flora with the SBI. Flora has worked computer crimes for 8 years.
"The SBI's computer Internet Crimes against Children Task Force, or I-CAC Task force, is comprised of 140 member agencies; state, federal, and local agencies," he told me at the SBI's Harrisburg offices.
I reached out to Special Agent Flora after receiving a Facebook message from a distraught mother.
Her words were simple. She wrote, "This is a hard subject for me but I'm a mother of a sex offender." Her son was convicted in a child pornography case in 2014 and is currently serving a 7-year sentence. She agreed he should be punished, but she worried about other families suffering her same fate.
We are not revealing her name because she is worried about her son's safety in prison. She wanted me to investigate child pornography because, as she said, "Enough is enough." She felt child pornography was too accessible. Agent Flora disagrees.
Flora said that a person has to know what they are doing to get these images. As he put it, "You don't just stumble upon child pornography."
For the purposes of telling the mother's story, we'll refer to her as "Sarah," and her son as "Jim."
We road with Sarah as she made her third trip to see Jim in prison.
"When I first found out that my son did this, it took my breath. And then I had hatred toward him," she told me. "I wanted to just beat him up myself." She said she was angry and disgusted at what he was accused of.
Agent Flora's agency worked with local deputies on Jim's case. He said Jim had over seventeen thousand graphic images of child pornography on his devices. And Jim had shared or traded pictures with others.
Agent Flora says Sarah's pain is something he sees every time they make another bust. He calls Sarah and her family the 'collateral damage' of child pornography.
"This destroys families. When someone thinks what they're doing in the privacy of their own home is okay, they're wrong. Viewing, trading, downloading child pornography is a crime," he told me.
There is one case that has stayed with him. An image on the surface of a happy home. But he knew something horrible was happening behind those walls. He was walking up the path to serve a search warrant when he saw the pornographer's wife.
"His wife was out on the flower bed, literally making their home more beautiful, and he was inside destroying their lives," Flora said. He told me once that man was sent to prison, the family lost their home and were forced to move in with family in another city. The fallout from such a horrific crime.
"I want to fight my tears, my anger, and my fears. I'm trying to find a way to not let child porn tear up more families," Sarah said. She said she prays for the victims of child pornography, adding, "I'm his mother. I love my son, but enough is enough. No more. No more kids should be hurt this way." She fought back tears as she spoke.
Agent Flora wants people to understand this crime crosses all socioeconomic boundaries.
"In the last two weeks my team has been in single-wide trailers in low income trailer parks and we've been in 700K dollar homes on Lake Norman," Flora said.
I talked with Agent Flora inside his agency's mobile undercover lab. When I asked if there was an increase in child porn he said, not exactly. When teens take naked pictures and send them to someone else, that's is technically a crime. And juveniles have and will be prosecuted. But the majority of cases his team is focused on are the pornographers, producing, selling and trading these images and videos.
He's got a stern warning for them. "If you think you are doing something in the privacy of your own home and you think that no one knows- there's a good chance we're watching and we're going to find you. You should look out your window and you expect to see us come up your driveway if not today we will get there. My team is working very hard and we are going to catch you."
Sarah, and families like hers, are left in ruins when arrests are made. "I lost him. He's not... he's not the son I had," Sarah said about Jim.
Now Sarah is worried when her son gets out of prison he will be just like he was when he went in, a child pornographer. She said he's afraid to attend counseling. "If you go walk into a sex offender class, you got people watching you. When you come out, you might not make it through the night."
Agent Flora has a lot of advice for parents on the conversation you must have with your teenager. If you've got younger kids, the "Good Touch - Bad Touch" conversation has to change and evolve with the times. You'll find our conversation above, and mobile users can click here.