The arrest and charges against University of Florida back-up quarterback Jalen Kitna are a reminder of the dark problem of child pornography in Florida and the nation, law enforcement and other experts said.
“It is a super serious issue,” said civil attorney Trip Green of Ocala. “You can be charged with $10,000 in fines and 30 years in prison.”
With its high-profile player facing such serious charges, UF and the University Athletic Association acted quickly, suspending Kitna indefinitely. By Friday, the Gators removed references to the 19-year-old player from its 2022 roster, including statistics and photographs.
“We are shocked and saddened to hear of the news involving Jalen Kitna,” the University of Florida Athletic Association said in a statement. “These are extremely serious charges and the University of Florida and the UAA have zero tolerance for such behavior.”
Kitna was released from jail Thursday on an $80,000 bond after a first court appearance where he faced five felony counts of possessing and distributing child pornography online.
The athlete’s case once again focuses attention on the rise in child porn crime reports across the central Florida area.
Child porn is defined as any image or video that sexually exploits children, even if there is no actual contact with a child. Better self-policing by online platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Discord, may account for an increase in cases that have been reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a child protection non-profit organization.
While many cases go unprosecuted, others like Kitna’s have been high-profile.
Eric Lipman, former general counsel for the Florida Elections Committee was sentenced to six years in federal prison on child pornography charges in April 2022. During a search of Lipman’s home, law enforcement agencies discovered 19 files of child sexual abuse material along with internet searches involving child sexual abuse.
“Those who seek to view and share child pornography facilitate the abuse of children by those who produce and profit from this illegal content,” U.S. Attorney Jason Coody said in an April news release. “With the assistance of our law enforcement partners, we will ensure that those who engage in such heinous conduct will be held accountable for their actions.”
With the rate at which children have access to online platforms, there are more ways to communicate worldwide with one click than ever before.
In 2020 alone, there were 4,053 reports linked to central Florida child pornography cases, according to the Central Florida Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program. That number in 2021 jumped nearly 2,000 to 5,966 reported cases.
Of these reports, only a small percentage have led to arrests.
Why is it so hard to arrest offenders?
Law enforcement officials said it is always difficult to track down online criminals. Although, with artificial intelligence improving, different platforms can flag pictures and messages, as in the Kitna case.
According to Facebook, the popular online platform flagged 77 million files in 2021 that contained “child nudity and sexual exploitation.” That is up from 38 million in 2019.
Facebook is just one of many social media platforms where children can be exploited.
The ICAC said that while these cases are hard to detect in the world of social media, their focus is to educate children and parents about the safety of using social media and online safety. While many people are engulfed by their electronic devices, the ICAC stresses online safety and being smart about what is posted on the Internet.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found a rise among multiple categories of child pornography from 2020 to 2021. While central Florida has problems with the matter, it has become a national issue. The organization said there was a 35 percent increase from 2020 to 2021 in child sexual exploitation online.
Kitna’s arrest, experts said, is a reminder of the risks posed by easy access to the Internet by children.
“You hear about things being described as victimless crimes,” Green said, “(But) child pornography is not a victimless crime. It’s a kid.”
Suspected child pornography crimes can be reported to the NCMEC’s anonymous tip line at (800) 843-5678. Or, tips can be shared online at Cybertipline.org. Reports also can be made to local authorities by calling 855-FLA-SAFE.