The arrest of a 35-year-old man for possession of child pornography videos and images last week comes as no surprise to the president of the National Council of Parents’ Associations of Trinidad and Tobago (NCPTA) , Clarence Mendoza, who says child pornography is endemic in Trinidad and Tobago.
Neil Ramdeen, an employee of T & TEC, was arrested and charged after police discovered a large amount of pornographic material involving minors in his home. This is the latest incident highlighting what Mendoza has described as a persistent problem in that country.
Speaking to the Sunday Express, Mendoza said the production and distribution of child pornography has been going on for a long time and has infiltrated the school system.
He said there had been numerous cases in the past of underage students making pornographic material that ended up online.
In 2019, a special joint committee on human rights, equality and diversity, chaired by the current Minister of Education, Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, heard details of levels of child pornography. in the school system.
Gadsby-Dolly said then that 69 reports of child pornography had been received by the Education Department over a five-year period, with 67% of cases involving girls.
The majority, she said, were children themselves producing and distributing pornographic content.
Mendoza said not much has changed since then.
“In the school environment, what we saw is that the students would have made their pornographic videos and that it would have circulated on social networks,” he said.
The latest is from a student at a southern high school, he said.
“We have other schools where students would have found themselves in this type of compromising position with other students. We also had discussions where students in the privacy of their homes made short videos for other students where male students asked female students to show their bodies and expose themselves.
He said some girls give in to peer pressure and send sex videos and images of themselves which are then distributed online and in some cases even sold to adults without the girls’ knowledge.
“We realize that it is sold by students to adults. Since the arrival of cell phones with cameras, we have seen it move from recording student fights to student pornography, ”he said.
Mendoza said that child-to-child pornography may not be taken as seriously as that of an adult with a child.
But he argued that it was just as serious and illegal and noted that adults are the ones who watch and buy the material.
He said tougher penalties were needed not only for the adults involved but also for the teens who produced that content.
Currently, Mendoza has said that schoolchildren involved in the production of pornography are given a simple five-day suspension.
“It’s something the stakeholders have to sit down and discuss because it’s very serious, but it feels like it’s not. “
He said parents need to take a more active role in their children’s lives and have discussions about sex and safety.
Sandrine Rattan, president of the International Women’s Resource Network, also expressed concern that child pornography has become endemic in the country.
She said children are even more at risk in today’s Covid-19 environment where they spend more time online and can be targeted by predators in chat rooms and on social media.
Rattan said that in order to start tackling the problem, one step should be to make all sexual offenses against children, including pornography, non-dischargeable and also to have some sort of rehab program for perpetrators.
Psychologist and independent senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh weighed in on the issue of child pornography, noting that it exists because there is a high demand and market for it.
He said there is a “brotherhood” of child pornography consumers who exchange videos and images.
“Many users of child pornography have large collections. They have a global network and exchange images, like an exclusive club. They have to meet their needs by getting more photos, ”he said.
They also profit from the sale of this material, he added.
Deyalsingh noted that consumers of child pornography are ordinary people who may never be suspected of engaging in these activities.
These could be teachers, coaches, pediatricians or even priests, as people with a sexual interest in minors often place themselves in professions where they have easy access to children, he said. declared.
“Viewers of child pornography on the Internet are in a relationship, have jobs, are educated and have no criminal record. You can’t tell who has this hidden desire.
He said the attraction to children could be linked to people with pedophile tendencies who were born with that attraction and know this to be wrong, but they hide and seek arousal in the form of child pornography.
Some may seek help while others escalate, leading to the sexual assault of a child.
In some cases, minors engage in these acts due to peer pressure.
Giving an example, Deyalsingh said he had a teenage patient who was brought in by his mother who said she voluntarily left school with friends to make a “movie”.
“She felt her friends were doing this, it was a thrill and they got paid by two older men to do it,” he said. “She didn’t think she did anything wrong. Her mother was more traumatized by this. The girl felt “tall” and accepted by her peers.
Deyalsingh said the teenager thought it was normal as there were a lot of people posting similar content online.
He said after making the video, she doesn’t know what was done with it.
He further recalled an incident a few years ago where a hacker viewed and shared hundreds of photographs of naked women on social media, including many children from Trinidad and Tobago.
“The images were openly distributed and widely viewed on social media, some of which also appear on a pay-per-view porn site,” Deyalsingh noted.
“Some kids do porn to be popular, some for money, some boys to show that they are great men and that they get higher esteem among other young people. There is the culture of gang sex in schools where some girls are forced or participate for money. Some pornographic content is typically produced on school premises through the use of student cell phones, and generally distributed for a nominal fee to other students in the same school or other schools.
Deyalsingh noted that the effects on child victims can be long-term and include feelings of shame and anger, children withdrawing into themselves and isolating themselves, anxiety, depression, post-stress disorder. -traumatic (PTSD), addiction to cope, sleep and eating disorders. and suicidal thoughts.
It can also lead to children growing up with a distorted view of sex and problems establishing healthy sex as adults. However, Deyalsingh said that to approach child pornography in a meaningful way, adults need to look at themselves.
“The problem seems to be what we do as adults. To stop child pornography, we must stop exhibitionism and adult pornography. Private adult videos should be kept safe. “
The state must also put in place legislation and the police must monitor more aggressively, he added.
“We need the cybercrime bill and a dedicated police team to surf the net. We need parents to be vigilant and involve this team if they suspect something is wrong. We need links with the Cybercrime Unit of other countries that are carrying out ongoing investigations. We desperately need the Cybercrime Bill to help the Children’s Act tackle this problem. The Police Cyber and Social Media Unit needs to have more teeth, ”Deyalsingh said.
Deyalsingh said not much seems to have changed since the 2001 case of Father Andrew Allen and the 1996 case of zoo curator Hans Boos.
Allen was arrested in Ireland for indecent assault on two minors.
He had lived at T&T for 18 years and reportedly took sexual images of local children.
Boos, a former curator at the Emperor Valley Zoo, was arrested in Miami on child pornography charges after he was found in possession of a large collection of child pornography, some of which he was depicted in sexual acts with children and was found to have broadcast the videos and images as far as Germany and Thailand.
“It seems after all these years we’ve been left behind in this fight,” Deyalsingh said.