Part four in a four-part series

by Grier Weeks

When agents followed the trail of child abuse images back through the Internet to the door of James Robert Cobler, their chances of finding a hands-on child sexual abuser were at least 55%, according to a growing body of research. 

Their chances of finding human rights violator were about 100%, because every producer, distributor and consumer of child pornography is helping build a global black market that treats children as sexual commodities.

The trail of evidence leading to Cobler turned up both.

In recent decades, billions have been spent on strategies for child abuse prevention. Nonprofits educate, researchers study, writers write, and government intervenes where it can. 

But there’s never been a proven, mass-scale strategy for stopping child sexual abuse and preventing the next attack, until now. 

Sexual predators like James Cobler live in every city, town and neighborhood in America. They always have, and they’ve always blended in, their true nature hidden from society. We rarely knew who they were until their victims came forward, often many years after the atrocities. Then, our ability to rescue, protect and win justice through the court and child protection systems was shamefully weak.

But Cobler made a serious mistake, one we can predict is now being made by the majority of sexual predators who target children. He didn’t confine his crimes to hidden rooms, where the only witness was a child. He went online and accessed video and images of children being sexually abused. When he did, he left a trail to his doorstep.

When law enforcement got to that doorstep, they learned Cobler was not only a possessor and trader of child abuse images, he was also a producer. His victim was a four-year-old boy he’d babysat. Police later learned Cobler had AIDS when he sexually assaulted the child.

If you ask 100 decent Americans about global warming, income distribution, foreign wars or taxes, you’ll get a lot of different answers. Ask them about whether we should stop criminals from abusing and exploiting children, and you’ll only get one. Yet, at the very moment in history when we actually have the technology to detect, locate and stop child predators on a massive scale, we are not.

The agent who took down James Cobler was there because of PROTECT and our supporters. His salary was paid for by Virginia Alicia’s Law funding, the result of a national campaign by PROTECT that is multiplying counter-child-exploitation resources manyfold in state after state. 

This strategy has the potential to prevent child sexual abuse on an unprecedented scale. To believe otherwise would be to watch James Robert Cobler—and thousands more like him—delivered into prison (Cobler got 120 years) and believe they were never going to strike again.

Part One: Hiding in Plain Sight
Part Two: A Better Way
Part Three: When Alicia's Law Held Up a $77 Billion Budget