Child exploitation: The horror, the horror
Back in January, SA Police established a special internet child exploitation unit to tackle the rise in internet predators and the growing trade in sexual images involving children.
To date, the unit has made 21 apprehensions and is investigating another 68 cases. (This often means they’re ploughing through seized computer hard drives for images – one hard drive a few weeks back contained 1.2 million photos.)
On average, three South Australians have come under the unit’s spotlight each week, often for possessing what’s commonly known as “child pornography”. That’s pretty alarming in itself, but it’s not the worst statistic in this repulsive and spreading scourge.
In just seven months, the investigations of the new SAPol unit have led to 10 children being removed from their homes in South Australia and interstate.
That’s little South Australian kids on your street or in your neighbourhood being allegedly abused or used in vile imagery that even hardened SAPol officers are too squeamish to discuss.
I thought I’d research online “child pornography” after reading about the growing number of high-profile cases.
When I started talking to academics and police, I was struck by my own naivety on the extent of the problem, and became aware that as a community we’re underplaying the issue because it’s simply too confronting.
The term “child pornography” is perhaps losing its power to shock as ‘porn’ becomes more mainstream (take ‘mummy porn’ best-seller, Fifty Shades of Grey).
And “child porn” certainly doesn’t do justice to the full extent of horrors that sometimes take place in these photos: little school kids, toddlers and babies being raped – and not always by humans.
As one academic told me, perpetrators are not viewing photographs and video footage. They are looking at crime scenes. “And these crimes wouldn’t be committed if people weren’t buying and viewing them.”
Apparently many offenders acquire them – and even create them - to build their “collections”, to share their hobby with like-minded people. Grotesque.
SAPol officers never use the term “child pornography”. They call it “child exploitation”. And the new internet child exploitation unit’s primary focus is not seizing photographs on computers, it’s protecting children.
Detective Inspector Peter Dunstone from the Sexual Crime Investigation Branch says it’s time we SA parents wised up about protecting our own children, too.
He recently warned parents against using mobile phones to upload photos of kids to social media sites with location information. Why? Because paedophiles are window-shopping on the internet.
By accessing freely available “geo-tagging” data (generated by your phone’s camera setup), these perpetrators locate where your children live, go to school and play.
And then there’s the online games. No matter how young your children are and how innocent their internet games might seem, if they’re able to chit-chat to other game users, it’s possible they’re interacting with predators.
As Det-Insp Dunstone says, “You wouldn’t leave your child in Hindley Street at 4 o’clock in the morning with their teddy - so why would you leave them unprotected on the internet?”
Meanwhile, despite increasing media reports of child exploitation cases, many believe sentences aren’t tough enough.
One academic told me alleged offenders often plead guilty to avoid the most graphic images being shown in court. If they’re rich enough they bring in “expert defence witnesses” to excuse their crimes on factors like medication or stress.
He said this, coupled with our own squeamishness and the media’s subsequent reluctance to divulge confronting details, means sentences are often insufficient.
As I see it, we need to do two things.
(1) Stop with the lame excuse about not being internet-savvy. We need to take as much control when our kids are online as when they’re playing beside a busy road.
(2) When we read about “child pornography” cases, we need to remember the horrendous crimes committed against children for the sexual gratification of creeps keen to build their online “collections”.
And if you think sentences are too lenient – speak up.
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