The death of Cupcake McKinney should spur us to action

The death of Cupcake McKinney should spur us to action
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Surely nothing bad could ever happen to a little girl nicknamed Cupcake. With a thousand-watt smile, Kamille Cupcake McKinney was said to brighten the room when she entered. But on Oct. 27, mourners paid their last respects to her at a Birmingham, Ala., church not far from where Cupcake then was buried. Her family will grieve while they spend years to come in the same courtroom as two strangers police have accused of abducting and murdering the 3-year-old.  

Police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and court personnel all will fight a battle about Cupcake.  Who killed her and why are questions for the court system to answer. Police have charged a man and woman with capital murder, and prosecutors say they may face the death penalty. Surely, anyone who abducts and kills a toddler should be punished swiftly and permanently, but the death penalty, although permanent, is hardly swift. And if the court system finds the suspects guilty of killing an innocent little girl, her family still may never learn why she was killed. 

A key piece of evidence reportedly was found on the male suspect’s phone when he was arrested.  Surprising nobody who has expertise in child sexual abuse, authorities say the phone contained images of the sexual abuse of children. The best indicator of a sexual interest in children is the possession of such images. The suspect also faces charges of intending to distribute those foul images. 

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As the New York Times recently reported, images of the sexual abuse of children are being trafficked across the internet in epidemic numbers. These images are captured by offenders sexually assaulting children, including babies and toddlers, and shared with like-minded deviants around the world. With the internet increasing their availability, the appetite for these depraved images has grown in the past decade, fueling the continuing sexual abuse of children.  

The Justice Department’s National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction,  released in 2016, included a threat assessment that found the proliferation of child pornography “increases the demand for new and more egregious images, perpetuating the continued molestation of child victims, as well as the abuse of new children.”  

We know that such images further drive the sexual abuse of children, but do they also drive offenders to kill? In another infamous case, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered toddler James Bulger in England in 1993. The killers were only 10 years old when the crime happened. Since his release from prison, Venables twice has been prosecuted for possessing child pornography. Did he always have a sexual interest in children, and was it that interest that drove him to kidnap and kill 2-year-old Bulger?  

The more crucial question is whether society can afford to take the chance that child pornography sometimes may lead to child killings. 

Child pornography is an epidemic problem we have failed to adequately address. Children don’t vote, they don’t have lobbyists, and they have no “voice” to demand we protect them from predators. It is time for a presidential-level commission on child exploitation. Perhaps then we can hold technology companies and the government accountable to the children who desperately need their help. 

It is too late for Cupcake McKinney, and that should enrage us all.

Francey Hakes is CEO of a consulting firm that provides counsel on the protection of children. She served as the first National Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction from January 2010 to March 2012. A prosecutor for more than 15 years, she was an assistant district attorney specializing in crimes against children and an assistant U.S. attorney specializing in technology-facilitated child sexual exploitation. Follow her on Twitter @FranceyHakes.