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23-Year-old Arrested in America’s Largest Child Porn Charges

A 23-year-old Floridian man was arrested after being found with the most extensive stash of "child porn" America has ever seen.

In August 2022, investigators received tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about a man’s Discord account containing child sexual exploitation material (“CSEM” for short, also known as “child porn”). After obtaining the necessary search warrants and confirming their tips, 23-year-old Floridian Jonathan Hernandez was arrested and charged with two counts of possession of CSEM, two counts of transmitting CSEM, and one count of using a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony.

But this was just the start. Little did investigators know the response to the Discord tips would lead them to find the most extensive CSEM stash America has ever seen. After Hernandez’s initial charges, police searched his home and confiscated 15 electronic devices. After police reviewed just one of those devices, they hit Hernandez with 1,182 CSEM charges!

And that’s not all.

In addition to the CSEM charges, Hernandez got dinged with four counts of possession of bestiality. The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office says, “There is no telling how many charges he could face if detectives [go] through all the devices.” Hernandez is being held on a $2.4 million bond and is facing life in prison if convicted of all charges.

While this may seem like an extreme case, studies have shown that escalating porn habits can result in seeking out harmful and even illegal content and, in some cases,  actual sexual abuse.

Let’s get the facts.

Related: How to Combat Images and Videos of Child Sexual Exploitation

What is “child sexual exploitation material?”

Before we dive in, a little bit of context is important. According to ECPAT and INTERPOL, “‘Child sexual abuse material’ (CSAM) refers to material depicting acts of sexual abuse and/or focusing on the genitalia of the child,’ while ‘child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) encompasses all sexualized material depicting children, including ‘child sexual abuse material.'”

The legal term for sexually explicit content depicting minors is “child pornography.”

However, because it refers to a form of child exploitation that often shows violent, degrading, and horrific forms of child abuse, many survivors and advocates choose to use CSAM and CSEM because doing so more accurately conveys the seriousness of the content. Plus, using the phrase “child pornography” can make it sound like the child participated willingly, while “CSEM” clarifies that the child is not the source of the problem.

Get The Facts

How common is CSEM?

Child protective services substantiate a claim that every nine minutes in the United States, a child faces sexual abuse, and even more never come to light. And even though only some of these abuses get further exploited on camera, in 2018, tech companies reported more than 45 million images of CSEM–more than double the number of images found the year before. In 2020, that number jumped to 65.4 million.

Unfortunately, this is not a surprise, given that porn can become an escalating behavior.

Related: This Child Abuse Expert Says Many Abusers Have Escalating Violent Porn Habits

How porn can become an escalating behavior

We know from research that porn consumers can become desensitized to porn, often needing to consume more porn, more extreme forms of porn, or consume porn more often in order to get the same response they once did.

We’ve all heard stories from smokers or former smokers that include something like, “It started with one cigarette, but eventually, I was smoking two packs a day.”

It’s one of the hallmarks of substance abuse: escalation. Users need more and more of their drug of choice to “get the same high,” and their pattern of abuse is driven by their need for greater quantity. This phenomenon is called Habituation, and it stems from desensitization. Desensitization results from too much of the pleasure chemical dopamine. Your brain receives dopamine from loads of different experiences ranging from eating a great meal to finishing a workout to kissing your partner.

Dopamine is your body telling you that what you are doing is great and you should do more of that thing. But you’ve heard the maxim “too much of a good thing” before, right? Well, activities like drug and porn use turn up dopamine production to 11. The more time you spend at those levels, the more the brain begins to ignore all that dopamine. So, what is a porn consumer to do? It’s simple; they turn to novelty. In other words, consumers don’t just want more porn; they want new porn, whether new people, new situations, or both. This “Coolidge Effect” has been demonstrated time and time again in loads of different research settings.

Internet porn offers a limitless supply of any type or number of partners and situations. If it exists or you can imagine it, there is internet porn of it.

BHW - The Brain

Why this matters

To be clear, we are not saying that if you watch porn, you will eventually seek out “child porn.” However, we are saying that research shows porn can become an escalating behavior, and, unfortunately, seeking out harmful and illegal content like CSEM can be part of that.

For example, in one 2016 study, researchers found that 46.9% of respondents reported that, over time, they began watching pornography that had previously disinterested or even disgusted them. Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.046Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Become an Escalating Behavior

None of this is to say that these results are guaranteed or that everyone who consumes porn will find themselves viewing material they once found disgusting. (In the above study alone, if 47% reported they did have that experience, that means 53% did not.) It is only to say that when we talk about the potential forms of escalation among porn consumers, it has the potential to be far more than a matter of time.

The good news is change is possible! Research and the experiences of thousands of people have demonstrated that the effects of desensitization can be managed and largely reversed.Young K. S. (2013). Treatment outcomes using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted patients. Journal of behavioral addictions, 2(4), 209–215. https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.2.2013.4.3Copy Nathanson, A. (2021). Psychotherapy with young people addicted to internet pornography. Psychoanal.Study Child, 74(1), 160-173. doi:10.1080/00797308.2020.1859286Copy  In fact, even in cases of serious substance and other addictions, research shows that the brain can heal over time with sustained effort.Pfefferbaum, A., Rosenbloom, M. J., Chu, W., Sassoon, S. A., Rohlfing, T., Pohl, K. M., Zahr, N. M., & Sullivan, E. V. (2014). White matter microstructural recovery with abstinence and decline with relapse in alcohol dependence interacts with normal ageing: a controlled longitudinal DTI study. The lancet. Psychiatry, 1(3), 202–212. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70301-3Copy Yau, Y. H., & Potenza, M. N. (2015). Gambling disorder and other behavioral addictions: recognition and treatment. Harvard review of psychiatry, 23(2), 134–146. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000051Copy Rullmann, M., Preusser, S., Poppitz, S., Heba, S., Gousias, K., Hoyer, J., Schütz, T., Dietrich, A., Müller, K., Hankir, M. K., & Pleger, B. (2019). Adiposity Related Brain Plasticity Induced by Bariatric Surgery. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 290. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00290Copy  Research also indicates that, while guilt can motivate healthy change, shame actually fuels problematic porn habits.Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior.18(1), 12-29. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.551182Copy  So if you’re trying to give up porn, be kind to yourself and be patient with your progress.

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Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

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