South Africa – Child porn: ‘The heart of darkness’ (2 May 2018)

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child pornography john mccann
John McCann

On a Thursday afternoon in January this year, Eva Wolmarans* did what she does every weekday: she picked up her 11-year-old daughter, Maria*, from school. But on that seemingly regular Thursday afternoon, Maria, strapped into the backseat of their car, hesitantly held her mother’s gaze in the rearview mirror and said: “Oom Walter peter met my [Uncle Walter fiddles with me.]”

Oom Walter was Wolmarans’s partner.

“She was looking at me and speaking to me in that rearview mirror,” says Wolmarans. “And I honestly don’t know how I got us home that day. I’m telling you, I didn’t see a red light or a green light or a stop sign.

“When she started talking I registered nothing … All I did was look at her face in that mirror. I was so shocked, because he is the most awesome man you can get — so helpful, so sensitive.

“But, you know, when something like this comes from your child … I always believe that, from the mouth of a child, you will hear the truth.”

Then she was hit with another shocking truth — that, for years, her daughter’s sexual abuse had been filmed and photographed. He had photographed her in the bathtub, Maria said, filmed her “laying naked on the bed [while he] opened her legs and … did things”.

Determined to find evidence against the alleged abuser, Wolmarans went through his computer. She discovered in excess of 400 files containing child pornography. “And that was only on one of his hard drives,” she says, incredulously.

Although her sleuthing resulted in him being arrested, the images will always haunt her.

“It was terrible … just so terrible,” she says. “The one thing I remember seeing was a man — probably the child’s father of whatever — and this child, about eight years old, lying on a bed, naked. And he would pull open her legs and take the video — from the front, from the back — while he touched her. It’s terrible.

“You can’t think that a person could do that to a child. And in some of the photos, small children — six, maybe seven years old — would be dressed up in the typical image people have of sex workers: high-heeled shoes, fishnet stockings, with full make-up on and their hair done up in really very, very explicit pictures.

“It is …” she trails off, before adding: “No, I can’t think what those children must be going through.”

Child pornography has again been brought under the microscope with the current criminal trial of a Johannesburg man, Robert de Vries, who has been charged with 107 counts of possessing, creating, importing and distributing child pornography. De Vries, who is accused of peddling child pornography from as far back as 1998, was caught while selling the images and video clips internationally.

Miranda Jordan-Friedmann is the founder and director of Women & Men Against Child Abuse (Wamaca).

“This is the very heart of darkness,” she says. “Images of child abuse traded over the internet are fast becoming more graphic and sadistic and increasingly involve younger children, toddlers and even babies. Over the past three years, the number of images involving the severe abuse, including the penetrative and sadistic sexual abuse of younger children, has quadrupled.”

The highly secretive nature of the industry, primarily through the dark web, makes it difficult to gauge the size of the child pornography market, according to Jordan-Friedmann.

The Wamaca website notes: “Child pornography is a multibillion-dollar industry and among the fastest-growing criminal segments on the internet, according to the USA National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and other international sources. New technology such as inexpensive digital cameras and internet distribution has made it easier then ever before to produce and distribute child pornography.”

Although the South African Police Service’s serial electronic crimes unit — working in tandem with Interpol and the FBI, among others — has made some headway in cracking down on child pornographers, Jordan-Friedmann adds that, “for every possessor or distributor they arrest, there are 70 more. And they have 70 more. This is a network with tentacles all over the globe.”

She says that South Africa “suffers from the reputation of being the dumping ground for the worst kinds of pornography”.

Heila Niemand, the investigations commander at Gauteng’s serial electronic crimes unit, says that, despite successes in securing convictions in numerous cases, “we are only scratching the tip of the iceberg. They are difficult to track.”

For Jordan-Friedmann, her frustration is exacerbated by the fact that, “looking at these images really kills your soul, because you know that every one of those poor children you see in these images or videos is dead. If not now at the hands of a sadist, then decades from now from drugs, alcoholism or suicide.”

Rees Mann, the executive director of South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Samsosa), says the long-term effects on survivors of child pornography are numerous.

“Psychologically, they all see themselves as worthless. They tend to blame and judge themselves, especially if they continue into prostitution,” says Mann. “When they are very young and don’t know anything else, this is the way life becomes for them. They often don’t see any other choice, so they then move on through the sex industry.”

Once those groomed and forced into child pornography reach the age of 16, their “net worth as an asset will be diminished” because of their age. “They will then move out of that circle into prostitution or entrapping other kids and get them into the industry because they would be offered incentives to find other children,” he says.

Whether they break out of this pattern or not, Mann adds, there is “the anxiety they all have for the rest of their lives knowing that they have this ‘footprint’; that these images or videos are out there and that hundreds of millions of people could have access to them”.

“Their entire life is lived in fear of the threat that somebody might pick up pictures or videos of them. So even though they are trying to live as normal a life as possible, there will always be that fear.”

Months after having confided in her mother on that seemingly regular Thursday afternoon, Maria “is fine”, Wolmarans says.

But it’s impossible to come away unscathed after having spent years in “the very heart of darkness”. Maria still carries the scars.

“She has nightmares regularly,” Wolmarans says. “I know, because she sleeps next to me now. And she has these angry outbursts. She is also more distant from her friends, because now she doesn’t have to pretend that she is fine anymore. When he did these things to her, he always told her to pretend as though nothing was happening; that everything was fine.”

For years, the brainwashing worked. “One day recently she asked me whether I am cross with her now. I asked her why and she said, ‘because you know now what happened’.”

“You see,” Wolmarans says, breaking down for the first time during the interview, “he always told her that if she ever told me what was happening, I would be angry with her. He made her believe I would say it is her fault. But I told her: ‘No, I am not angry with you; I never will be.’

“But I looked at her,” she adds, wiping away tears and trying to compose herself, “and I told her: ‘My child, this is the biggest present you could ever have given me … because you telling me is the only way I can help you.’

“I told her she gave me the biggest present. Really, the biggest present.”

* Not their real names.

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow fellow at the Mail & Guardian 

Article from: https://mg.co.za/article/2018-04-25-00-child-porn-the-heart-of-darkness

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