Feature | The Face of Child Porn: Gina Zhdilkov thought her family was safe from the child porn that ruined her childhood. Then the FBI investigated her husband. | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Feature | The Face of Child Porn: Gina Zhdilkov thought her family was safe from the child porn that ruined her childhood. Then the FBI investigated her husband.

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Rhett McQuiston, captain of Utah’s Attorney General’s Task Force on Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC), says video clips are highly sought after by child-porn collectors. “One of the most disturbing images I’ve ever seen is a young child being raped by an adult.” Add sound to the image of the child screaming for help and the horror only escalates.

ICAC investigated more than 400 cases in Utah last year alone and sent 70 to the courts. That, McQuiston acknowledges, doesn’t even scratch the surface. “For every one we get, there’s a 1,000 out there we don’t.”

One the FBI got was Greer. His sentencing merited six lines in the Deseret News. But behind that sentencing stand the children and teenagers whom Greer victimized by downloading and hoarding images of their abuse. Zhdilkov wanted to speak at Greer’s sentencing. Someone on the prosecution team told her that, because she wasn’t a victim, it wasn’t possible. “No one was speaking for the victims,” Zhdilkov says. “I went through it as a child. I could at least speak for them.”

Zhdilkov has fought hard to take her life back from her father’s abuse, and now from her ex-husband’s deception. Part of that battle was legally changing her last name in 1994 to Zhdilkov. “I wanted something that was mine,” she says. Zhdilkov was the name of the village her father’s parents came from in Russia. “My grandfather was the safest guy in the whole world,” she says. Pogroms razed the village to the ground almost a century ago. “To this day, there’s nothing there,” she says. “But I survived.”

SNAP HAPPY

Zhdilkov was born in South Central Los Angeles in 1961. Her mother, Mildred “Marie” Becker traced her lineage back to pre-Revolutionary War times. The neighborhood they lived in was predominantly Hispanic. Herbert Becker kept to himself in the detached garage where he spent much of his spare time. “He felt he had the anonymity and privacy he ultimately needed,” Zhdilkov says. “Most of what my dad did was in that garage.” A lonely child, she adored the neighboring Mexican families, particularly watching the mothers cook in their noisy, steam-filled kitchens.

Becker was a machinist and, his daughter says, a loud, hectoring bully. He would take his wife and child down to Tijuana to show them how good they had it. “See how lucky you are,” he’d say as they drove past shantytowns. “He liked to associate with people who were in desperate circumstances,” Zhdilkov recalls, like the motherless girls who lived around the corner in a trailer court. “Looking back, most likely, he abused them.”

Her father molested her at such a young age, she said, “I repressed a lot of memories.” Instead she had nightmares and acted out in

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ways that today, she says, would be recognized by professionals as signs of chronic abuse. As she grew older, if memories came to her, “I would push them out so fast it was like having a remote control, click, we’re not doing that station.”

When she was 8, her father took her and her mother to an old pond sealed off with barbed wire. It was a secluded area with a rock that resembled a chair. Becker had his daughter take her clothes off. She didn’t want to do it, but her mother was there. “If my mom was there, nothing bad was going to happen,” she felt.

Becker didn’t like her covering herself with her arms. What upsets Zhdilkov about that day even now was that she was smiling in some of the photographs. “I betrayed myself,” she says about those smiles. When she and Greer found Becker’s negatives, there were pictures from that rock session where she wasn’t smiling. “Anyone who could keep looking at that child and keep snapping those pictures was pretty sick,” she says.

Her father had a large-bulb aluminum lamp for lighting his subjects. Whenever she had a pimple, he would drag her under it and invasively examine her. “I always had terrible memories of that lamp,” she says. When she became sexually active in her late teens, “I would have flashbacks during sex when I would feel there is this light being shined on me.” Yet, she never let herself believe that something like that had happened. “One of the sad things about child abuse is that it’s less painful to tell yourself as a child or an adult that you’re crazy, you’re evil, there’s something wrong with you, than to believe your own truth.”

THE MAN OF HER DREAMS

“I can’t stand to look at you anymore,” Becker screamed at 13-year-old Zhdilkov. “I’m going to kill you.”

Her mother screamed as she fought to pull her husband off their daughter. He fell down. “That’s it, I’m done,” he said. He moved into a motel that night and stayed there for eight years.

On Zhdilkov’s 18th birthday, her Hispanic boyfriend proposed to her. They were married in a Catholic Church. The first time she had sex as an adult, she was confused by how familiar it felt. Later, she “blanked out a lot, went elsewhere,” during the act. “Nobody seemed to mind,” she says and laughs. While Zhdilkov laughs often and loud, it’s a sound that teeters constantly on the edge of tears.

Once married, every time her husband came home, she got a knot in her stomach at the prospect of his sexual needs. “People think when the abuse is over, it’s over, but it’s not,” she says. “If you grow up with something so incredibly twisted, you don’t even know you need to heal. You’re wanting to find something better, healthy and you don’t know what better, healthy is.”

The next several years were a picture of instability. Her first marriage lasted 18 months. She moved to Utah to save money but hadn’t bargained on the poor wages and tips she’d earn as a waitress. Pregnant with twins after a short relationship, she found herself living on a food budget of $50 a month in an apartment she couldn’t afford to heat. A neighbor in her duplex offered to help. She ended up marrying him. After graduating with a BA in psychology, she continued on for a Master’s in social work. By then, she and her second husband had split up, after the birth of her third child.

Part of her graduate work included volunteer hours at Salt Lake City’s Rape Crisis Center, now known as the Rape Recovery Center. At the conclusion of her nighttime crisis line shift, which volunteers did at home, a friendly volunteer, Roger Greer, would debrief her and other volunteers by phone, Zhdilkov says. He was known “as a committed advocate to victims and volunteers alike.” After she separated from her second husband, whom she later divorced, Greer called to offer support. In 1993, a romance developed, although Zhdilkov was very cautious. She knew that pedophiles often honed in on single women with young children. “He had to go through this interview process if he was going to be around my kids,” she recalls.

Everyone loved the former Boy Scout leader, from her 8-year-old twin girls and 3-year-old daughter to her picky cat. A former botanist and plant researcher, Greer started working at Salt Lake City-based National Stock Transfer (NST) in the early 1990s. A few years later, Greer bought the company, which handles the transfer of ownership of company stocks, from its then legally embattled owner, David Yeaman, Zhdilkov recalls. According to a Wall Street Journal article in 1997, Yeaman and four associates were convicted of securities fraud involving companies unrelated to NST in a Philadelphia federal court. Greer’s stewardship of NST hasn’t been without its problems, his current jail time excluded. The SEC fined him and a former associate $5,000 for violations of securities registration provisions in 2000.