Fighting child porn in SA: It's about helping a child & minimising abuse

Child porn is a heinous crime. It violates and abuses the most vulnerable victims in ways most people cannot imagine. An online monitor in South Africa, tasked with catching the culprits at the heart of this evil tells how they deal with the psychological effects of viewing this content everyday

28 April 2019 - 00:00 By Claire Keeton


Thabo*, 37, from Pretoria, works for the Film and Publication Board (FPB), analysing sexual content for child abuse. He describes his typical working day ...
My normal days are 8am to 5pm, but that changes if we have received content to analyse for a prosecution and we are pressed. Then we can leave around 8pm or 9pm.
I completed one report with 17,000 videos and images of child sexual abuse material in a week and a half.
We have mandatory breaks in the day. Guidelines are that we should not be analysing content for more than three hours. In the debriefing room we have multiplayer games like PlayStation and Xbox. We can get a debriefing as frequently as we want, and we have a compulsory debriefing with a psychologist outside of the organisation on a quarterly basis.
We do describe each and every video or picture and what's happening; for example, 'an adult male is fiddling with the vagina of a child who seems to be under the age of six'. Normally this is referred to as 'child porn' but this is incorrect: it is child sexual abuse material.
We must go through each and every one in the folder. If it is only one count, a person can be sentenced to three years, with two years suspended. If the analysis confirms 100,000 pieces of content, the suspect can be charged on 100,000 counts and this gives more weight to the case.
We have a team of two social workers and three IT guys, one of whom has a law enforcement background. When we see something very disturbing, we talk about it as a team and help each other, like a six-month-old baby being sexually abused by a doctor or at a day care.
We listen to sound when we start but if we have enough evidence for prosecution, it can be unnecessary to listen.
We are looking for clues - to check the background, does it seem to be formal, in an urban area, is there a window, can we see a building behind, can we spot something familiar.
More than half the content we analyse is from the SAPS, for prosecutions, because we are certified analysts. The magistrates have been giving prosecutors instructions for the FPB to analyse evidence and confirm if the pictures or videos constitute child sexual abuse material or not. We also analyse content from the FPB hotline and from international agencies like Interpol.
The majority of cases we see have white suspects and white victims. Only once I came across a suspect who was Asian. The majority have IT backgrounds.
When we find child sexual abuse material online, we report it to law enforcement agencies too. When they have evidence, the content is taken down. We have a good relationship with Google and Facebook, and they will do a direct takedown if a case is reported. We must also check the content on an international database to make sure material gets flagged and anyone who tries to access that content is blocked.
We work with other organisations like the International Association of Internet Hotlines, Childline and the social welfare department.
We are involved in education campaigns at schools, for children to report content and never to send it. It is difficult to report the distribution of content from peer to peer on WhatsApp: you sent it to me, but someone sent it to you, so education never to send it is vital.
Lots of child abuse material was captured years ago but more and more is coming out from behind closed doors.
I have two children of my own. I do not take this work personally. For me it is about trying to help a child and minimise the abuse. I do not talk to my wife about depressing content, but I tell her about successful cases. I've got church activities that take up much of my time.
Two of my colleagues like running for exercise. One loves braaiing. There are always people at his house on weekends.
Cases used to be thrown out of court before because of lack of analysis and evidence. All the cases with material assigned to us have been successfully prosecuted.
On one case we analysed 150,000 images and videos, and this gives more weight to the prosecution. There were life sentences for some of them. That's why I am passionate about making sure each and every piece of content is analysed."
-As told to Claire Keeton
*Not his real name.

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