Predators in Our Pockets: The New Digital Hunting Grounds, with Lt. Veto Mentzell and Emily Cashman Kirstein

Season 2Episode 5February 28, 2020

Two perspectives on child sexual abuse materials on the internet: We’ll hear from a law enforcement officer and a nonprofit that uses technology to protect kids.

Two guests join us to discuss the overwhelming number of images of child sexual abuse online. First, we speak with Lieutenant Veto Mentzell with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland. How has technology changed the nature of producing and distributing child abuse images? What’s the impact on children and survivors? And, who are these predators in our midst? We discuss the role of Internet Crimes Against Children Task forces and how well-intentioned efforts to update legislation can end up criminalizing children’s behavior.

Then, you’ll hear from Emily Cashman Kirstein, senior manager of government affairs for Thorn, a nonprofit that builds technology to defend children from abuse. What do we need tech companies to do—or to do more of—in order to protect children? Why are we failing to keep up with the growth of abusive materials online? Learn about the threat posed by end-to-end encryption and what Thorn is doing on the issue of self-generated content.

Topics (Veto Mentzell):

  • Who produces and shares abusive imagery? (2:14)
  • Technology now is a common part of abuse cases (5:53)
  • Self-produced images: the risk for kids (9:58)
  • Abusive images’ impact on kids and families—and investigators (14:04)
  • What policy makers need to know (22:24)
  • The best advice for Children’s Advocacy Centers (31:37)

Topics (Emily Cashman Kirstein):

  • An audacious goal: eradicating child abuse from the internet (34:21)
  • The prevalence of this material and what’s driving the growth (35:51)
  • Why aren’t we keeping up with the growth? (39:43)
  • The role of nonprofits and of policy makers (42:46)
  • Holding tech companies accountable (48:45)
  • Encryption, digital privacy, and child protection (51:15)
  • What else is promising? (55:48)


New York Times articles “The Internet Is Overrun With Images of Child Sexual Abuse. What Went Wrong?,” “How Laws Against Child Sexual Abuse Imagery Can Make It Harder to Detect,” and “Tech Companies Detect a Surge in Online Videos of Child Sexual Abuse

Harford County Child Advocacy Center

Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Maryland ICAC

Digital Safety” episode of Public Health Matters

The “State Chapter” is Maryland Children’s Alliance

Thorn’s TED Talk: “How we can eliminate child sexual abuse material from the internet” with Julie Cordua

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)


Telegraph article: “Tech companies should pay for child abuse epidemic ‘like oil spills’, ex-Government child safety Czar says

Safety by Design, eSafety Commissioner, Australia

Transcript to come.