This post contains mentions of child abuse and might be triggering for some readers.
Imagine it’s six o’clock in the morning and you open the door to six plain clothes detectives. They seize every computer, phone and electronic device in your family home – even your kid’s Playstation. Your husband is being investigated for his involvement with child sexual abuse material. Instantly, your world turns upside down.
Everyone around you asks, ‘How did you not know?’
Now imagine this happens during the COVID-19 pandemic and you are in lockdown with your partner and children. How do you seek help when you are forced to stay at home together with the perpetrator?
Watch: The signs of an abuser, told through his victim’s phone. Post continues below.
Before the virus started its rapid spread around the globe, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton gave a speech on March 5 stating “…every five minutes a webpage shows a child being sexually abused. Australia, I’m sorry to say, contributes to the epidemic of child sexual abuse.”
Until recently, this figure used to be every seven minutes – so time is ticking down. More people are looking at child exploitation material more often. The truth is that the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) are relentlessly increasing, both globally and in Australia. These images and videos are shared and shared again, creating a permanent digital record exacerbating the violation.
In 2018, nearly 18,000 reports of child exploitation were received by the Australian Federal Police. This is nearly double the previous year. Each report can contain hundreds and thousands of images and videos.
The area of child sexual abuse material that is growing the quickest is self-produced. This isn’t teenagers sexting nudes to their boyfriends. This is perpetrators grooming young people online, pretending to be someone they are not, getting the first image and then threatening the child to extort more graphic images and videos including live streams (this is sometimes called ‘sextortion’).
Sometimes people say to me, “What’s the big deal? He’s just looking.” However, child sexual abuse material is never ‘just looking.’ Each image and video represents a crime scene of a child being sexually abused.
You may also be aware that a few days ago, Australian Federal Police were part of a massive CSAM bust across five states. Sixteen people have been charged with 738 child exploitation and sexual abuse offences following a two year investigation. Four children were rescued.
My interest in this area is personal. Eighteen years ago, I was the innocent partner of a man who viewed child abuse material.
From my own experience and from hearing many stories, I can tell you that instead of finding support in the community, non-offending partners are frequently shamed, stigmatised and shunned.
These women are often named in the media, as if guilty of his crimes. People ask about their sex lives – were they normal? – and they wonder how it’s possible she didn’t know what he was up to (the implication is that’s she’s complicit).