A goal of any child pornography case is to identify the victims — the children who are sexually abused to produce the disturbing images.
It is a difficult challenge. Nationwide, the number of unidentified victims of child pornography exceeds the identified ones.
But according to charges filed recently in Sumner County, Wichita-area authorities think they have achieved the elusive goal in one recent case that began with a cyber tip to a national hotline.
Wichita-area law enforcement agencies followed up on the tip, and an investigation led to a Mulvane couple being charged last month with sex crimes against two children, identified in court documents only by their initials.
The couple has a 1 1/2-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
Speaking generally about child pornography, Michelle Collins, a vice president with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said: "It's easy for people to think of these crimes as computer crimes ... but they're not just pictures.
"In order for these images to exist, a child had to be exploited or abused."
Nationwide, based on recent statistical data, authorities have identified 3,017 children in sexually abusive or explicit images. Those children have been removed from the harmful situations, Collins said.
That number includes children from the United States and other nations. It reflects the international scope of child pornography, which is primarily transmitted via the Internet.
"There are more unidentified children than identified children," Collins said. "So there's still plenty of work to do."
Wichita police Lt. Jeff Weible said, "Any child porn investigation that we do, we go to great lengths to try to identify the victims.
"Our goal ... is to protect our children."
The initial tip that led to the Sumner County charges was passed to the Kansas Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit, said Weible, the unit commander.
The ensuing investigation led to charges being filed June 23 against the 31-year-old Mulvane husband and father.
The man faces four charges — aggravated criminal sodomy, aggravated indecent liberties with a child and two counts of sexual exploitation of a child.
The exploitation charges involve the alleged production or dissemination of visual images of the alleged sex crimes. Among the witnesses listed in charging documents is an Internet service provider.
In all four crimes, the charges say, the victim was a girl. The charges refer to the girl by initials only. Her initials match the initials of the man's 1 1/2-year-old daughter, as she is named in court records the man signed.
The man's 27-year-old wife also has been charged with two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a boy. The boy's initials, as listed in the charges, match the initials of the couple's 3-year-old son, also named by the couple in court records.
Authorities would not say whether the victims of the alleged crimes are the couple's children.
The pair's alleged crimes occurred between June 1, 2009, and March 24, the charges say.
Their children have been placed in temporary state custody, court records say. Both defendants have received court orders forbidding them to have contact with their children.
The man remains in the Sumner County Jail; the woman has been released on bond.
The Eagle generally does not identify victims of sex crimes. To protect the identity of the children who are the alleged victims, the newspaper is not naming the couple.
About five days after the woman was charged, she filed for an emergency divorce. "The parties are incompatible with each other," the divorce petition says.
The Sumner County Attorney's Office and law enforcement agencies involved in the case have mostly declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation.
Agencies involved in the case include the Exploited and Missing Child Unit, Sumner County Sheriff's Office, Mulvane Police Department and the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
The small house where the family has been living sits on a shady dead-end street in Mulvane that leads to a picturesque scene — a golden field of hay bales. Christmas lights hang from the front porch.
Neighbors, who asked that their names not be used, said they saw the man tinkering with cars.
Neighbors describe the man's 3-year-old son as talkative and friendly and said he likes to play with a pedal car.
In an affidavit the man used to apply for a court-appointed attorney, he said he works for a powder-coating business and gets paid $1,600 a month.
In another financial affidavit, the man's wife said she works for a home/business security company and earns $900 a month.
Usually a person accused of sexually abusing a child is someone with "legitimate access" — a parent, a relative, a family friend, a trusted adult, Collins said.
To produce child pornography, a child has to be molested. But the victimization doesn't stop with the molestation or soon afterward, she said.
"The children grow up with the realization that their images may be circulating the Internet."
Many producers of pornography get caught as a result of a case that starts with possession of pornography, she said.
The national center cites a study of 1,713 people arrested over one year for possession of child pornography. Among the findings: that all ages and income and education levels were represented. Nearly all of those arrested were men; 91 percent were white; most were unmarried at the time of their alleged crime.
Forty percent of the people arrested were accused of being dual offenders — those who sexually abused children and had child pornography.