THE REALITY OF SEXTING A recent statement by Dr Suparna Teleng, a psychologist, published in the Pune Mirror on 12 July 2011, that

“it is unfair to assume that sexting will lead to ugly consequences.....” reveals a frightening, and worrying, ignorance of the stark reality of child pornography. As long ago as 1979, R L Geiser observed in Hidden victims: The sexual abuse of children that “…..child pornography portrays a frightening range of perversions, such as parents having sexual intercourse with their children; adults having vaginal, anal and oral sex with children; children having sex with other children of the opposite or the same sex; children being raped, tortured and beaten; and children masturbating and copulating with animals.” And Michael S Malone of ABC News talked about the importance of understanding child pornography from a victim-perspective: “You may think you know what the child pornography industry is but, no matter how cynical you are, you do not. Yes, it is naked children exposing themselves. But it is worse than that. It is adults having sex with children, even babies. But it is worse than that. It is the rape and torture of little children.....This is the very heart of darkness. These are images that are more than shocking and repulsive. They kill your soul because you know that every poor child you see on those sites is dead. If not now at the hands of a sadist, then decades from now from alcoholism, drugs or suicide…..The pictures first make you sick, then angry and finally homicidal.....” Part of the problem is the failure to see any connection between child pornography and the actual abuse, torture and even the murder of children. While conducting scientific experiments is prohibited for legal and obvious ethical reasons, anecdotal evidence shows a sufficiently high correlation between the viewing of child abuse images and the actual abuse of children. Two tragic cases confirm the reasons why child pornography is prohibited in almost all jurisdictions, as well as the connection between the collection of child pornography and the actual abuse, torture and murder of children: Ten-year-old Holly Jones was returning home on afternoon after visiting a friend. She was abducted by a 36-year-old computer programmer, Michael Joseph Briere. He dragged her into his apartment, brutally raped her, strangled her and then dismembered her body. In his confession to the police, he admitted that just before he abducted Holly Jones he was watching child pornography on the Internet and that “viewing the material does motivate you to do other things. The more I saw it, the more I longed for it in my heart.” More recently, twelve-year-old Tia Riggs was “invited” by her uncle, John Maden, to babysit his daughter. As soon as she arrived, he acted out his fantasies on the little girl – he drugged her, inflicted a horrific catalogue of sexual injuries, raped her and slit open her stomach before

strangling her with a guitar wire. Members of Tia's family sat in the public gallery, yards from Maden in the dock as Gordon Cole QC, prosecuting, opened the case. "In general terms this murder was premeditated," he said. "It was murder purely for his sexual gratification – it had a sexual motive. The facts reveal clearly features of torture, rape, physical abuse and the ultimate murder of a child.....In the year or so prior to April this year, the defendant had developed what can properly be described as an obsessive interest in images and literature relating to paedophilia, rape and torture. He had an extensive library of such materials which included literature dealing with methods of killing. This material and the subsequent discovery of Tia reveals that this defendant was acting out a long-held fascination with rape, torture and abuse of children.” What about sexting? It must be understood that child pornography is not restricted only to images of children involved in sexual activities or sexual conduct. Non-sexual images of children capable of being used for sexual gratification and exploitation will also constitute child pornography in most jurisdictions. Taking a nude or semi-nude picture of oneself for a personal album is not illegal. But posting that picture on a mobile cellular phone or the Internet changes the context of the picture, making it not only capable of being used for sexual gratification and exploitation but also making a contribution to the child pornography industry! The production of child pornography is fuelled by the market for it, and the market in turn is fuelled by those who seek to possess it. And, it may sound harsh, but those who contribute to the child pornography industry are accessories to the abuse, torture and even murder of children. In Raising the Bar, a legal show on TNT in the United States of America, recently aired an episode which centered around a father accused of endangering his child and promoting child pornography. He had taken a picture of his son in the bathtub, showing the child’s penis and posted it on the Internet. That picture soon appeared on a child pornography website – posted to the site by a person who grabbed it off the father’s personal website. Had that picture remained in the family album, there would have been no problems. But the context changed when it was posted to the Internet, even if to the father’s personal website, because it was then capable of being used for the purpose of sexual exploitation – as, in fact, happened when it was subsequently grabbed from the father’s website and posted onto a child pornography website “Sexual exploitation” in this context means using an image or description for some benefit, such as financial gain or sexual stimulation or gratification, such as masturbation. It is, therefore, the context, or the circumstances or manner of its display or distribution that will determine when a picture of a child taken with innocent intent becomes child pornography or the sexual exploitation of a child.

Recent reports on cell-phone sexting activities by young people suggest that parents and young people are ignorant of the fact that taking a sexually-suggestive or semi-nude or nude picture of oneself and sending it via cell phone to friends amounts to the distribution of child pornography. Children as young as 12 years are reportedly exchanging salacious pictures and messages through their cell phones. Young people may think “sexting” is fun - and teenage girls might think it makes a sexy present for boyfriends - but the consequences can be quite serious. Jessica Logan, a beautiful and bright young senior student at a High School in Ohio, USA, was in a relationship with a 19 year-old male. On his birthday in 2008, she sent him a few semi-nude pictures of herself through her cell phone, meant “for his eyes only”. When she broke up with him a few months later, he sent the explicit pictures to several students in different High Schools in Ohio. When Jessica went to school, she was harassed and humiliated by students who had received the pictures. She was called a “whore” and a “slut queen” and became “that girl”. Unable to cope with the trauma of harassment, abuse, humiliation and stereotyping as “bad girl”, Jessica Logan went home, walked into her bedroom, opened her closet and hanged herself. Her mother, Cynthia Logan, has since gone public with the tragic story of her daughter to educate the public about the dangers of sexting . Jessica is not the only teenager to have suffered the extreme consequences of what has become a popular activity among young children. And it is not just the immediate consequences that those involved in sexting will have to face – they will have to live for the rest of their lives in the knowledge that their pictures will almost certainly end up in the possession of paedophiles and will be exploited even beyond their life time! The embarrassment of being identified in their schools and communities, of knowing that their revealing photos are being viewed by thousands, many of who will find sexual gratification from them and the fact that, once on the Internet, the photos will be providing sexual gratification to paedophiles and sexual perverts long after their lifetimes, are some of the traumatising consequences of sexting. And there is nothing that any of these teenagers, or anyone else for that matter, can do to prevent such consequences. The tragedy of the Ohio teenager who hanged herself when she discovered that her ex-boyfriend had “sexted” nude pictures of her to other high-school girls should be a wake-up call to parents, educators and the general public. It is not the criminal consequences of sexting, though that is serious enough to persuade teenagers against seeing sexting as fun, but the consequences upon their lives, and the lives of their family members and friends, that is the more important reason for ensuring that children do not engage in sexting revealing photos of themselves. Children must be made to understand that one dumb moment of seeming

innocent fun will end up as more than a moment in cyberspace and result in more than a moment of trauma. Iyavar Chetty Iyavar Chetty, a former Legal Counsel to the Film and Publication Board, played a significant role in ensuring that South Africa’s anti-child pornography laws met all the requirements for an effective and appropriate response to the global problem of child pornography. He has authored a number of articles on issues related to the investigation and prosecution of child pornography offenders, as well conducting workshops for police, prosecutors, child welfare organisations and schools. Recently, he coordinated and accompanied a team of South African police and prosecutors to a training session on the investigation of computerfacilitated offences against children, coordinated and conducted by the Toronto-based Kids Internet Safety Alliance, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Child Protection Unit of the Toronto Police and Senior Prosecutors of the Ontario Attorney-General’s Office

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