Australians have been shocked by an incident on the Sunshine Coast this month in which a 13-year-old girl was imprisoned, assaulted and tortured over many hours, allegedly by three girls aged 12, 13 and 14.
The alleged perpetrators also filmed the abuse, which went viral online with photos and videos being shared across news outlets and social media profiles.
Some people may think they’re supporting victims by watching the videos and then expressing their outrage at their treatment. Morbid curiosity about the event might also prompt people to view the photos or videos.
But there are three key reasons why you should never view, download or share photos or videos of children being assaulted.
1. You may be committing a criminal offence
Photos and videos showing this 13-year-old girl allegedly being assaulted and tortured are unlawful. Content such as this is called child sexual abuse material (CSAM), which has previously been called child pornography.
Child sexual abuse material is offensive or sexual online material depicting children. It’s a criminal offence to possess, view, share or create it.
It isn’t just pornographic material. These laws extend to material that depicts children being assaulted and tortured, even without a sexual element.
Criminal offences exist for possessing, viewing, sharing or creating such material. Each state and territory jurisdiction, and the Commonwealth, has their own legislation which may have a slightly different perspective on whether a person has committed an offence.
Criminal offences can be committed in the following circumstances:
if someone downloads a child assault photo or video, they are “possessing” child sexual abuse material
where someone posts it to their social media page or sends it via email to others, they are “distributing” or “disseminating” child sexual abuse material
when someone watches a child assault video online without downloading, or looks at a photo, they are still “accessing” (viewing) such material, which can be an offence.
It doesn’t matter if the child victim indicates their approval for the material to be promulgated. Children are unable to consent to material depicting their own assault being shared or viewed by others.
2. You are perpetuating the abuse suffered by the victim
Watching and sharing child abuse photos or videos does not support the victim. Every photo and video depicting child abuse shows a crime scene.
A victim’s abuse being captured and shared as a video is a regular reminder of their abuse. The photos or videos can cause ongoing harm to a child victim, beyond any physical harm they may have recovered from.
US researchers conducted a study, published in 2018, to analyse the complex experiences of survivors (adults who, as children, had material of their abuse shared online).
The participants described ongoing feelings of guilt and shame, and a feeling of enduring vulnerability because their records of abuse will always be online for others to see.
As one survivor, not part of this study, said:
I have to live with the knowledge that my abuse will never end, and that every second of every day, someone could be – almost certainly is – watching my torture and abuse. Even once I’m dead, my degradation will continue. I will never be able to escape it. This trauma is infinite.
Some also described an empowering dimension because the material provided validation of the abuse they suffered, or could be used as evidence in court.
While victims may all process their experiences in different ways, it’s important to be mindful of the detrimental and ongoing effects on a child victim of an assault being captured and shared online.
As a community, we must do everything we can to support those children, including refusing to watch or share photos or videos of their abuse.
3. You are giving undeserved notoriety to the perpetrators
Some perpetrators use records of their offending to create social media content for notoriety.
“Performance crimes” allow perpetrators to use their online platform for attention.
Terrorism is another example, where terror attacks have been livestreamed and media outlets have responded by refusing to name the perpetrators.
Do not reward the perpetrators by giving them a platform.
How should we respond?
It’s important we, as a community, acknowledge that children whose assaults are captured in photos and videos have been through a traumatic experience and need support.
Watching or sharing their assault only perpetuates the abuse.
We must refuse to watch videos of child abuse, and delete them if they’re sent to us.
We then need to trust that police will conduct thorough investigations that will result in an appropriate outcome.
If this article has raised any concerns for you, support is available from Act for Kids.