You have work at six in the morning, yoga at six in the evening. Busy enough day for you, as always, but you’re scrolling slowly through Tor at three in the morning anyway. You’re on the search for anything remotely entertaining on a Hidden Wiki. You steer clear of any obvious porn links. Some specify crush porn. Disgusting, but nothing surprising.
It’s 3:27 a.m. when you click on a link to a forum selling antique toys. You’re grateful it’s nothing sexual since you’re not sure your corneas can handle any more leaked violence porn videos. The site has an obnoxiously bright fuchsia background that illuminates your complexion with a dull pink hue. Some of the toys are rusted, but the prices pushing five figures catch your attention the most. It all just seems like useless junk, maybe a few vintage items but you’re not entirely sure. The occasional tricycle comes up. The ones with working bells on the handles seem to go for more money. Stuffed animals, some in pristine condition and others dilapidated to the point of being nightmare fuel. A lot of dolls. They’re repainted to look uncannily lifelike.
The further you scroll, the more outlandish the prices get. You can’t help but read over the descriptions for the toddler clothes that start showing up. Disgust coils inside your gut. All the clothes supposedly belong to kids that the sellers have been “watching.” They like to use that word a lot, it seems. The forum is out there in terms of fucked-up stuff, but you’ve seen plenty of similar stunts on the regular web.
The details unsettle you, though. Full names and blurry pictures of said children from a distance. The clothes range in size from newborn to preteen. You start to scroll a bit faster to get past it, beginning to lose your nerve and just hoping the forum will come to an end. Your mouse cursor stutters over a still image, a play button. The thumbnail quality is uncomfortably high, uncomfortably close to the subject’s strained smile. He can’t be older than eight. Baby teeth missing in a few places. His eyes are puffy but there aren’t any tears, not even tear streaks on his cheeks.
You scoot back from the screen hard enough for the chair legs to tear through the thin carpeting below. The glow of LED fuchsia bathes your small studio’s walls, coats the insides of your eyelids every time you try to blink away what you just saw.
You lower the lid of your laptop so the screen is no longer visible. A cup of tea should settle your nerves. As you lean against the kitchen counter waiting for the kettle to warm up, your gaze keeps drifting to your half-closed laptop, the rich pink glow against the keyboard. You should just close the browser and go to bed, but a morbid curiosity forces you to make the few paces back to your desk, cup of hopefully soothing chamomile tea in hand.
The fuchsia background hits your eyes differently this time, practically sears your eyelids shut. It’s just a sick joke. There’s no way you’re looking at actual child porn right now. There are more toy listings with the occasional video in between. Most are sexual.
You clench your jaw so quickly and so tightly that your cup creaks between the pressure of your teeth. You jerk your eyes away fast enough to give yourself a headache. You’re practically hyperventilating into your cup.
“What the fuck.” No matter how hard you glare up at the popcorn ceiling, the image brands the insides of your eyelids. A snuff title beside a blurry thumbnail with what looks like a body. Too small to be an adult.
The video description slows your bloodstream to a trickle. The seller specifies height, weight, age, and name. Emily. Her name was Emily. You clamp your hand over your mouth the more you read. You know you need to tell someone. And then you’re caught in your spiral of thoughts again. So this kid is the breaking point and not all the others? Your stomach turns, the tea inside you gurgling.
The police. You should really call the police. You’re just some person scrolling through websites that you probably shouldn’t be looking at in the first place. You sit here as your body gathers nervous sweat in its crevices and your hand continues swiping the mouse wheel. Your index finger extends and retracts, driven by a morbid curiosity and a whittling belief that it’s all just a sick joke. You can’t stop looking at the blur of children’s faces, the disgustingly detailed descriptions, and that fuchsia background that is really starting to piss you off.
You succumb to the invisible weight pressing down on your neck, bowing your head away from the screen to take a few deep breaths. This is bigger than you. Way bigger than what was supposed to be a dumb way to entertain yourself into exhausted unconsciousness. You force another look up at the thumbnail with splatters of pixelated maroon, let your gaze roam to the side of the forum posts until you go cross-eyed staring so intently into the fuchsia.
One click and the forum vanishes. You lean back in the chair. The default blue desktop background waits patiently. The rest of the tea leaves a lukewarm residue on the back of your tongue. You rub at your face and eyes. Your knuckles chafe against your skin as your balled fists slide through your tears. They spill over while the rest of you remains deathly still.
It’s 3:52 a.m. and you’re farther from sleep than you ever could be. Go to bed. You repeat it in your head as you close your laptop. The browser is closed and the forum is gone, so you lay uncomfortably stiff in bed instead, mull over your to-do list for tomorrow to pass the time it takes to fall unconscious. The laundry will have to be done tomorrow. Maybe the dishes can wait until the end of the week. You have work at six in the morning, yoga at six in the evening.
For the Voices in the Dark
The glamorization of the dark web in the media has transformed a breeding ground for criminal activity into a seemingly inconsequential matter. Fictional displays of the dark web often focus on the entertainment stereotypes of hacking and cultish followings, ultimately failing to capture the realities of commercialized human suffering. The chilling reality is that every day people use the dark web to commit illegal acts, especially the sale of child pornography. User anonymity discourages consistent action and prevalent advocacy against such criminal acts. Too many of us remain ambivalent about addressing dark web crimes due to the perception that nothing can be done. However, by being conscious of the violence occurring, advocating against both said violence and dark web romanticization, and not turning away emotionally and mentally out of discomfort, we can actively oppose the dark web accessibility of child pornography. The exploitation of minors online may seem daunting and terrifying to face, but a willingness to be aware and advocate for those being subjected to violence is the first step toward making a difference.