By Melanie Sauer
Cape Town residents are outraged, as a Plettenberg man, who pleaded guilty to nearly 19- thousand charges of possession of child pornography, had his trial postponed on Tuesday. Experts are not surprised, however, saying that the judicial system is simply one of many hurdles in reducing instances of child pornography in South Africa.
The rise of the internet and associated anonymity has turned child pornography into a major concern in the country and due to the secret nature of the offence, the full extent of the problem remains unknown.
“The accessing and making of child pornography is discovered accidently,” says former National Coordinator of Childline South Africa, Joan van Niekerk.
Children rarely disclose incidents of child pornography, whether it be due them being ashamed of the incident, or simply unaware it occurred, adding a layer of complexity when identifying and prosecuting perpetrators.
According to , former supervisor of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) Cyber Crimes Division, Russ Brown, there has been a rise in ‘sextortion’ cases, where the child is talked into producing and transmitting explicit videos or photos to a person who is either pretending to be a child or grooming the child.
If the child is unsure about producing more, the threat of exposing the child’s images to friends and family is used as leverage against the child, sparking a vicious cycle.
Brown says that while the perpetrator is known to the victim, it may not be in a relationship that is obvious to the police, the victim’s family, and sometimes even the victim.
“Predators pose as a child, meet the child online, or they bump into the same person over and over in the chat room. It’s a process where the comfort level of the victim just lowers those boundaries more and more. Now this person [becomes]a friend or a confidante, or it can even turn into a boyfriend,” Brown stated.
Van Niekerk, therefore, applauds police investigations that are successful. Prosecution however is another matter.
She references a case in Durban last year, where police discovered a man who possessed over one million images of child pornography. Despite having a specialised Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) unit that launched in 2010, a “slowness of criminal procedures” prevented the man from being convicted.
“We know he is deeply involved in this crime against children, yet he is still out there,” van Niekerk asserts.
This was witnessed again this week, when William Beale, 38, had his trial postponed to June 30, despite pleading guilty to 19,000 charges of possession.
South African legislation clearly outlines the criminal act of creating and using child pornography, in both the Sexual Offences Act (1957) and the Film and Publications Act (1996).
The law not only prohibits using children for and benefiting from child pornography, but extends to exposing children to any type of pornography, whether it is accidental or not.
Despite strong legislation, van Niekerk highlights a tendency for the use of child pornography to not be taken seriously.
This is problematic, as according to CEO of the Child Coalition Rescue, Carly Asher Yoost, 85% of those who consume child pornography have abused children.
Van Niekerk suggests that any engagement in the activity should be considered “child abuse”.
“Behind every image, is a child that has been sexually abused, probably a lot more than once, and many times. Child pornography can be written, or heard, and when it is misused to sexually arouse oneself, this too falls under the category of child pornography.”
Yoost implemented ground-breaking technology, which monitors downloads of sexually explicit images of minors and has led to the arrest of 9,000 predators worldwide. Whether these offenders will be convicted, however, is another question.