Monday, November 26, 2007

Au Revoir

If you were one of the regular readers of this blog, I am sorry to say this is goodbye.
I have not been able to get into the blog myself for a while and apparently some of our readers had the same problem.
So until we can work out a better system - this is farewell.

But there are many other ECPAT related sites popping up now and as we draw closer to the next World Congress (Nov 2008) they should increase.

Plenty of good debate - as there should be.

As they say in this country - Kia Kaha! Stay strong!


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Russian Film

This week I went to the movies to see a remarkable new Russian film “The Italian”. It is the moving story about the system which allows young boys to be picked up from various parts of Russia and then held in an isolated orphanage until they can be on sold for adoption to wealthy parents from other parts of Europe. It pulls no punches. The poverty and depravity of Russian towns and country is vividly portrayed.
The story line is about one young boy who is to be sold to an Italian family (hence the title) But he manages to beat the system and find his way back to the city and find his own mother. It is a feel-good ending and helps to affirm the belief that there is still much goodness even in the worst of places.
What does come through as a very strong undercurrent is the extreme vulnerability of children when there is a situation of poverty. Sometimes there are mothers who feel able to sell their own children because of desperation and then suffer such guilt that they commit suicide. There is one sad episode of this in the film. More often it is the criminal networks who find ways to secure children through abduction or false promises.
This film is not about children sold into prostitution but it describes the same process. It is about a criminal network created in situations of poverty where children can be bought and sold and where unscrupulous people make excessive sums of money from the trafficking.
The emotions of the people in the film swing from time to time. A selfish prostitute takes risks to save the young boy. One of the traffickers gets caught in a nasty episode and it changes his behaviour. They are small signs of hope in a sad and despondent world.
The film has received many awards – rightly so.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Growth of Porn

Yesterday, police in Australia picked up a child pornographer who had a collection of 800,000 offensive images on his computer. Yes, that’s right 800,000 images - just short of one million. Can you imagine the time and effort which would go into collecting 1,000 different images and then repeating the process 800 to 1,000 times! What kind of obsessive behaviour would drive a man to such lengths and what sort of market is there in cyberspace that provides such a huge reservoir of illegal material.
Child pornography is monitored in USA by the United States Customs and they have estimated that at any one time there are over 100,000 web sites offering child pornography. These sites are constantly changing their names to elude prosecution and a large proportion of them are based in Russia or East European countries.
Equally astonishing is their estimate that child pornography generates 3 billion dollars annually.* Most countries now have law enforcement officers monitoring the trade and attempting to stop it. Every day in newspapers around the world there will be stories of arrests of pornographers but still the trade flourishes.
We have often said that behind every image there is an actual child being abused. This reality adds to our determination to find some more effective way to stop the growth in this terrible trade.

* Pornography as a whole is estimated to generate between $57 billion per annum though some have claimed the figure could be as high as 97 billion. The three largest markets are China, South Korea and Japan. The USA is 4th.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Kid's Photos

Taking photos of children might seem a harmless activity. Parents are doing it all the time with their own kids.
But we now know that there are people around the world who get a vicarious sexual thrill from taking such photos and videos. Seen in this light, taking photos can become a more serious activity. Lewis Carroll was apparently a fanatical photographer of children and the story goes that when he died (unmarried), his nearest relative was so embarrassed by the collection of photographs that he burned the lot.
Today we know more about the habits of child sex abusers and it seems clear that photos and videos play a large part in their obsessive behaviour. Surveys of paedophiles in the United States showed that their favourite TV viewing was the programmes which showed young girls in brief costumes doing gymnastics.

So what do we do now about Jack McClellan. A self-confessed American paedophile who has no convictions against his name but is obsessed with taking photos of young children. He even has a website listing the best public areas to view little girls.
His behaviour brought a huge public response last month when he turned up at a performance of the popular children’s programme Wiggles but ignored the actors and instead took masses of photos of the young spectators. Irate parents chased him off the set and the Wiggles producers expressed their deep concern at such activities. How can this be stopped they asked? McClennan’s actions were distasteful and offensive but he did not break any laws.
Well, when there are no laws you have to make them. Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Melvin Sandvig made a landmark decision when he placed a restraining order on Jack McClellan which makes it almost impossible for the 45-year-old American to continue to live in California. It is now illegal for McClellan to go within 10 yards of a child in California.
This is no final solution but if it is not effective the legal system will have to find a better way to protect children’s right to privacy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Strange Cults

Sometimes you think the world is full of weird cults. Ambitious individuals with a big ego latch on to an ideology or religious belief and promote it through some form of unusual activity until it gains a cult following. History is littered with the wreckage of such movements. Nor do we learn from experience or from the record of such experiences.

Two deaths in the past week made me reflect on this strange phenomena.

In Australia the controversial Ken Dyers took his own life rather than face a barrage of criminal charges brought against him by girls who had been child victims of his sexual attacks while members of his Kenja Communications organisation. 25 years ago Dyers founded a movement which used a form of meditation which he called “energy conversion”. It was well-promoted and hundreds of people parted with thousands of dollars to attend these sessions which allegedly sometimes included one-on-one nude sessions with women and children.
Many wealthy supporters gave public support to Dyers but in the end the inevitability of his conviction for child sex abuse drove him to shoot himself in the head ten days ago.

A second death last week, that of Tammy Faye Bakker will hopefully spell the end of one of those strange “christian” movements so popular in the United States. Known as PTL (Praise the Lord) and based on saturation TV it had a cult following and was the creation of the ambitious couple Jim and Tammy Bakker. Their network programme was so popular that at its peak in the 1980’s it reached 13 million households. Every session included a hard sell call for financial donations. Hugely wealthy the Bakkers did everything with extravagance. Tammy had a drug problem and Jim enjoyed sex with young people. When he drugged and raped a young girl called Jessica Hahn he tried to bribe her with a gift of over US$250,000. It didin't work and he ended up in prison where he died a broken man. Tammy divorced him and re-built the PTL empire. She died last week of a debilitating cancer.

There are dozens of stories similar to these two.
Why should we care about such gossipy nonsense?
We care because cult and cult-like movements leave a trail of victims behind.
In many such organisations the practice of child sex abuse is quite common. It represents a form of power and control which is often the dominant drive of cult leaders and helps to reinforce their rule. Of course all people have the right to form new organisations and explore new frontiers. But when such developments are controlled by autocratic rulers without proper checks and balances we do well to examine the movement with suspicion.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sex Offenders On-line

The news from America today reveals that US government authorities have begun searching networking sites and discovered that on MySpace alone there are more than 29,000 convicted sex offenders who have their profiles listed and who actively trawl the web. This figure is at least four times greater than the authorities had previously estimated.
Probably no other country has done this kind of analysis. In Australia where I am writing this blog there is no system for doing the cross-reference required. The email address of child sex abusers is not recorded anywhere and the government is not prepared to update its records to make such a search possible. In New Zealand it is even worse because they do not even have a paedophile register.
What both countries do know is that child sex abusers increasingly use network sites to meet and groom potential abuse victims. Just yesterday two more Australians were arrested in Sydney and Perth for trying to groom children on the net.
The American survey is a wake-up call. Trying to educate parents and children on the dangers of the net is only part of the solution. Something has to be done inside the net itself.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

When Money is not the Answer

The amount of money being paid by the Roman Catholic Church to the victims of child sex abuse continues to make headlines. The wealthy churches of California have this week agreed to pay $660,000,000 to around 500 of its members which works out at about $1.3 million for each person. It has also been stated that this is not the end of all the possible payments. Similar large sums have already been paid in Boston and other American states. The Irish Catholic church faces a similar crisis and has paid out €.5.5 million already this year to claimants.
Reading the responses in American papers it is striking that a number of the recipients see the gift of money as almost irrelevant. What most of them are seeking is a genuine apology and some proof that the situation has changed. Having suffered themselves their greatest anxiety now comes from seeing other children suffer in the same way.
And regrettably cases still continue and many more payments will have to be made. Within the church the debate against priestly celibacy and male domination continues. Perhaps some of these recent events will be the precursor to change.