SALT LAKE CITY — Samuel Seager doesn't know whether it was child pornography that led him to sexually abuse his 12-year-old victim or not.

"I think, for my case, it was coincidence that they both happened at the same time — but maybe not," he said from the Duchesne County Jail.

"Would I have done so much with her if it hadn't been what I'd seen on the Internet? Got ideas and really started playing with the deviant part of my mind? With these cases, you don't know what you would have done without that influence in your life."

One thing he does know is that the abuse and pornography worked hand-in-hand. What he saw — which, at first was so repulsive to him — became less and less so as time went on. Pornography changed the way he treated his victim.

"It's safe to say that the abuse was more aggressive, pronounced or worse because of (pornography)," Seager said.

Ken Wallentine, chief of law enforcement with the attorney general's office, said it was "unusual" for investigators and prosecutors to find a child sex abuse case that didn't originate with or involve child pornography.

"Every time we find a child predator, almost without fail you can track back and find that pornography and child pornography was part of the picture," the chief of law enforcement with the Utah Attorney General's Office said. "The links are frightening and they are powerful."

Wallentine pointed to a study conducted at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, found that "up to 80 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for possession, receipt or distribution of child pornography also admitted to hands-on sexual abuse of children, ranging from touching to rape."

The study also found that for every known victim, the convicted sex offenders, responding anonymously, listed dozens more that were unknown.

Of the 155 child pornography offenders in the study, investigators knew of 75 victims at the time they were all sentenced. But those offenders reported crimes against a total of 1,777 victims in the course of the study.

The surprising details were reported in "The 'Butner Study' Redux: A Report of the Incidence of Hands-on Child Victimization by Child Pornography."

Lynn Robertson, a victim's advocate working in the Heber Valley, doesn't need data to make the connection between child pornography and sexual abuse. Twenty years of social work has shown her the link, made even more clear in the past five years or so.

"I think it's technology," Robertson cited as the source of the uptick. "It used to be you had to go to X-rated movies or take magazines the mailman had to deliver. Now, it can be so secret."

Her theory was seconded by Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who in 2006 reported in a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives that "commercial child pornography is a $20 billion industry worldwide, fueled by the Internet."

Seager said he'd never touched child pornography until an accidental search of the history on a friend's computer showed him how simple file-sharing was — and how much child pornography there was to access.

"It was incredibly easy," he said. "I saw some terrible, terrible things out there and as I kept searching, those things weren't so terrible anymore."

Wallentine said this fits in with what he said is a typical pattern that starts with an individual's first exposure to pornography and can grow into an addiction.

"Like any addiction, enough is never enough," Wallentine said. "So, they'll move on to another category of pornography, something that's more deviant and more out there and ultimately, many — not all but many — move on to child pornography. At that point, many of them have no longer been able to contain their sexual urges to viewing and they start acting out with multiple sex partners and with children."

Dr. Rory Reid, a research psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA, said a pattern of escalation typically takes place in 59 percent of those who consume pornography. And a shift to child pornography for those viewing adult pornography is "very uncommon."

"Most people who consume child pornography have a pre-existing sexual attraction to kids," he said. "They turn to child pornography to explore and feed that attraction."

Seager said he feels that his sexual attraction never really aged beyond those in junior high and that's what he was drawn to. When he was sentenced in 2008 to as many as 75 years in prison for the abuse that lasted close to four years, 4th District Court Judge Darold McDade spoke of Seager as someone whose life was derailed by child pornography.

"It appears to me ... that you are what I would consider a prime example of someone who let the detrimental effects of pornography get the best of you," McDade said at the time. "I look at you as being a decent or good person, but those effects seem to have led you down this road, a road that you weren't able to overcome once you started."

Robertson pointed to the case of Lon Kennard — a longtime Heber resident who started a charity with his wife and was long well regarded — as someone who hid his obsession and saw his life unravel. Kennard was sentenced to three consecutive sentences of five years to life in prison on Nov. 2 for three counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony.

Robertson noticed that the only time the man cried in the hours-long hearing that put him face to face with his victims was when the judge pointed to the good he had done that was all but nullified through his destructive actions.

"People are living this double life. They want to look like the good father, the good provider, the good church member. It makes them unstable. A double-minded man is an unstable man," she said, quoting a favorite missive of a Heber judge.

Seager said he saw the dichotomy in himself. A religious man, he said he would pray every single night for the power to stop. But he, in turn, would spend his days nourishing his urges.

"I wouldn't let it go," he said. "I was constantly seeking it out. I was always trying to feed it."

He had little regard for the arguments of some who contend that watching child pornography could be cathartic. For him, more just led to more and Seager said he didn't grow out of it or move beyond it as he hoped. Only now has he really realized how much it was a beast of his own making.

"I kept thinking about it. I kept wanting it and so, of course, I'm not going to let it go," he said. "What I realized once I got here (behind bars) was, 'Wow, I was holding on so tight to that thing.'

"I've got nothing left to hide. Everyone I know knows why I'm here, so if I can help somebody else understand this and maybe humanize this … that we're not monsters, that we have problems we want to deal with so we can live in society."

Wallentine said much of the solution for preventing what he strongly believes is a pattern of pornography addiction and abuse is the involvement of parents. He doesn't think people understand how big the issue is, but they should for their sake and the sake of their families.

"I'm pushing 30 years as a cop," he said. "I saw Utah in its cocaine epidemic and we thought that was terrible. I saw Utah when heroin was a big thing, and it's coming back, but nothing like it was in the 80s. I saw meth from when it first came into the state and sent many people to prison and I thought this was the worst drug to ever come along …"

"I believe that cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine have nothing on pornography when it comes to destroying families and destroying lives," Wallentine said. "You cannot overstate the dangers that are there and parents have to recognize that and engage in it.

"It's huge."

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