Strengthening policies and legislation will go a long way in curbing the spike in crimes associated with child pornography, say experts, following the arrests of three men in Mitchells Plain, Kraaifontein and Worcester who allegedly lured children and distributed and accessed child pornography.
An international operation by the police Serial and Electronic Crime Investigations unit and the US Department of Homeland Security to trace manufacturers, users and distributors of child pornography led to their arrests. In total, seven suspects have been arrested in the Western Cape since November.
Shannon Manuel, 32, was arrested on Friday and appeared in the Mitchells Plain Magistrate’s Court facing charges in relation to possession of child pornography, distribution, downloading and possible grooming. He was allegedly chatting and luring underage girls on a chat group where naked pictures were exchanged.
Corné van Rooyen was arrested in Kraaifontein on Thursday and appeared in the Blue Downs Magistrate’s Court on Monday. The 40-year-old was allegedly found in possession of more than 149 000 pictures of child pornography as well as more than 5 000 videos.
Police also found two unlicensed firearms, ammunition in various calibres, as well as nine snakes, three of which he did not have a permit for.
Garth van West was arrested last Wednesday and appeared at the local court in Worcester the following day, charged with accessing, distributing and possessing child pornography.
The 53-year-old was allegedly found in possession of 95 000 images and 6 000 videos containing child pornography.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said that Van West was expected to return to the Worcester Magistrate’s Court on Thursday for formal bail application.
Van Rooyen’s case returns to the court for a formal bail application on January 30 and Manuel will apply for bail on January 29.
“In all three matters the state will oppose bail,” said Ntabazalila.
This case has once again led to parents being cautioned against sharing pictures of their children, especially in their school uniforms, on social media.
The age group 10 and up was the highest risk cohort as they were at their most vulnerable while dealing with physical changes, hormones and identity issues, according to Teddy Bear Clinic director Dr Shaheda Omar.
“While the use of technology is important for educational purposes, we cannot ignore the huge risk factors where children are exposed to online sexual predators. They are very wise in their tactics because they understand children seek attention, compliments and feed to those vulnerabilities.
“They use false pictures pretending to be their age mates and first request simple pictures before they go to the extreme length of demanding nudes because they have gained their trust.
“This turns to child grooming and to an extent teenagers even meet up with these predators, who exploit them through child trafficking or rape. Some only remain at the level of exchanging pictures and then blackmail them to send videos,” said Omar.
Cape Town private investigator John Alexander of Royal Investigations said they routinely encountered cases of sextortion, with a notable emphasis on minors being victimised.
“These investigations are intricate, as suspects typically conceal their true identities, utilising fake accounts and unregistered cellphone numbers for communication. The repercussions of a child falling victim to child pornography are profound and often irreversible by the time it is detected. Parents must adopt a preventative approach to mitigate the emotional and psychological abuse that can lead to severe outcomes such as suicide and self-harm. Watching child pornography contributes directly to the harm inflicted upon young victims.”
UCT Centre of Criminology’s Dr Simon Howell said this type of crime was increasingly problematic in South Africa.
“At the moment there is some policy and legislation around this but it’s not designed specifically for the issues at play. As such, policies and legislation ... need to be strengthened.
“At SAPS there is a unit that is designated for this and that has assisted a lot. In terms of prediction, it can be difficult to predict and we have seen this in recent court cases.
Anyone can be an offender, in some cases even parents. That is why it is paramount to sensitise young people and children (so) they don’t fall into traps,” said Howell.