IT is one of the most difficult subjects in the world. The abuse of children and then the recording and disseminating of images online have reached epidemic proportions. The networks of people who consume these images and engage in such acts are international. Here too is the divide that determines the value of life in our world. Those who produce the videos and photographs and the children who are subjected to the abuse are often those in developing countries.
In one recent report published in The Guardian, it was estimated that there were at least 80,000 paedophiles in the United Kingdom who posed a threat to children in developing countries whom they wished to victimise. It is likely that the number is far greater when all of Europe and the United States are added to the numbers.
As Pakistanis know well, there are plenty of Pakistani paedophiles as well. The regular reports of even small toddlers and babies being abused and killed are a small indication of just how prevalent paedophilia is in Pakistan itself. While the problem exists, there is little effort to explain to parents and school officials the dangers it poses and to teach them how to combat the problem. There is even less information about how the internet, particularly the ‘dark net’, is used to distribute images of abused children or pornographic images involving children.
In an informal survey I conducted, the issue crosses economic boundaries within Pakistan too, with the rich and poor both involved in the exploitation of children. Nearly everyone who has grown up in Pakistan, and this includes men and women, has experienced or knows someone who has experienced child sexual exploitation. At the same time, there is no recourse for those who would like to report a husband, a father, a brother who is involved in paedophilia.
The dark recesses of the internet have become home to the most evil and depraved actions.
New research published in the New York Times this past weekend provides new insight into the minds of paedophiles. Unlike previously assumed, it is not in fact true that most paedophiles commit crimes because they were abused themselves. The study reported by the Times actually found that most offenders had no history at all of having been abused as children.
Abusers may tell this story in court or otherwise to curry favour and evade blame but the stories and the consequent picture of paedophilia as a cycle are not entirely correct. The victims of child abuse do not have high rates of abusing others, but they do have high rates of self-medicating by using drugs and alcohol and are more likely to commit suicide.
Then there is the issue of online versus actual abuse. Many paedophiles make excuses to family and others who may discover their secret by saying they are only consuming online images and are not actually involved in the abuse of children in ‘real life’. The research found this to be a lie as well; over half of those who consume online child pornography have either already abused a child or will abuse a child as soon as the opportunity presents itself. The urge that leads them to consume the images (which is what creates a market for the images in the first place) will also lead them to abuse children.
The means used by child molesters and paedophiles are staggering. In terms of personality, paedophiles tend to be very charming, their powers of persuasion being crucial in grooming children — sometimes for weeks or months before molesting and abusing them.
Often, they take up jobs that provide them with greater access to children, such as teaching, sports coaching, driving school buses and vans and selling children’s clothes and toys. It is also crucial to remember that little boys are just as vulnerable as little girls, a fact parents should consider when they choose to protect their girls and leave little boys with little protection.
Paedophiles are known to engage in extensive and elaborate blackmail; a camera placed in a bathroom used by young children can record them bathing or using the bathroom or even just changing clothes. Then this video can be shown to the child as a means of shaming them into further submission. At other times, the child can be threatened with harm to family and parents if they do not comply.
The truth of the matter is that no child is safe and no one, no teacher, no coach, no after-school tuition centre, no servant and no relative can be completely trusted with children. While it is true that paedophiles tend to be men, women have also been known to offend or act in roles in which they supply children to male offenders. Parents need to be extremely vigilant and teach their children about paedophilia. The most protected child is the one who has been taught about the sanctity of his or her own body and that no one else is permitted to touch it.
Talking to children about the tactics used by paedophiles (such as blackmail) ensures that the child knows how to react if an adult tries to trap them. Open communication also ensures that the child will not be afraid to tell their parent about the abuse if anything does happen.
The dark recesses of the internet have become home to the most evil and depraved actions. Children have become victims of a crime, the pathology of which is only partially understood but astoundingly prevalent. Finding child pornography on the phone or computer of any individual whatsoever is 100 per cent proof that the person is a paedophile and is either already abusing children or will abuse them as soon as he can. It is up to those that see and know of such behaviour to not stay silent and tell everyone that they can so that they cannot ruin the lives of innocent children. In a world of child predators, it is up to the ordinary person to fight and expose the filth that dwells among us.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd , 2019