Pixels from a Crime Scene: Woman who was sexually abused as a child ‘sickened’ that images of her abuse may still being shared by predators

Published:  Mon 13 Apr 2020

Speaking on a groundbreaking new podcast series, a victim of child sexual abuse says it is “sickening” that images of her abuse could still be being circulated years after her abuse, and “enjoyed” by predators online.

Pixels from a Crime Scene was commissioned by The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the UK-based charity responsible for finding and removing child sexual abuse material from the internet. In the second episode, launched today (Monday 13 April), the IWF hears how having abuse shared online has a long-lasting impact on the victims.

The podcast series brings together global experts, victims, industry leaders, and even criminals for the first time to explore how children are being exploited by online predators who share images and videos of their sexual abuse far and wide on the internet.

The series release date was brought forward due to the Covid 19 crisis and fears that children and predators alike will be spending more time on the internet. The IWF’s Chief Executive has said it’s time for people to really understand the threats online, and what’s being done about it.

After being abused by a male predator who had posed as a female model to groom her when she was only 13, a survivor says images and videos of her sexual abuse still circulate online, years after she was targeted.

The survivor, who asked only to be identified as Rhiannon, said it is “devastating” to know criminals are still viewing videos and images of her, and that she is “frightened” someone will recognise her.

Speaking on the podcast, Rhiannon told how abusers trick girls into posting explicit images of themselves online, and then use those images to extort more extreme material from their victims.

The IWF warned that children are “re-victimised” every time abuse images are re-shared.

Rhiannon said: “When I was 13 years old I was speaking to somebody online and they pretended to be a female model.

“They complimented me and talked me into sharing images of myself online, and then managed to get my personal contact details and the man came to my house the following morning and sexually assaulted me.”

Rhiannon said after only a few hours online, the man grooming her had gathered a huge amount of information about her.

She said: “While I was speaking to her, as I thought at the time, I didn’t actually question whether she was who she said she was.”

The groomer sent photos supposedly of the model he was pretending to be, and Rhiannon sent photos back in return.

“She had been heaping on the compliments,” she said. “As a 13 year old with the normal low self esteem, who would not appreciate that? She said she was a model. She said she thought I could be a model too because of how pretty I was, and she encouraged me to send more photos.”

This progressed to talking about topless pictures, with Rhiannon eventually sending more explicit pictures of herself.

She said: “Once she had that very first explicit photo, everything switched very quickly, and she wasn’t nicey nicey and complimenting me any more. It was ‘I’ve got this proof now, and I’m going to use it against you’”.

Rhiannon said the conversation progressed until her abuser told her her male “boss” would be coming to take photos of her.

“I was terrified,” Rhiannon said. “I didn’t really want this to happen, but she was telling me that she had already spoken to him, and that I couldn’t back out now.

“I went to sleep that night thinking, God, I hope nothing happens really. I woke up in the morning, got a phone call from him saying ‘I’m on my way’.”

She said she thought about telling the builders next door what was happening, but decided against it. She said she saw the perpetrator on the street and he saw her.

She said: “I went back upstairs to the flat and he phoned me and told me he’d seen me and to let him in."

Rhiannon said the perpetrator had been able to piece together where she lived from information he had tricked her into divulging online.

 “He came up the stairs to our front door and I opened the door to him,” she said. “As soon as I had opened the lock, he opened it and he walked in, and he is quite a big man, quite tall, quite large. I didn’t really feel that I could push him back.

“I did think for a long time, it’s my fault because I have let him in, but opening the door, and him pulling the door open and forcing his way through, pushing past me is a very different thing.”

“He came with his equipment. He had this big camera. Quite a professional looking camera, and he had this case with all sorts of things in.

“He told me he had printed the images that I had sent the day before and he had those with him and he had those on disks so, if I were to say anything, or do anything, he would be sending those straight out and he’d be posting them round my home, and he’d make sure my parents got them.”

Rhiannon said the abuse she suffered at the man’s hands made her feel sick.

She said: “He was taking explicit photos of me. He made me do things to myself, and he did things to me, and he made me do things to him, and he took photos of all of it. And I remember at one point he said ‘come on, you don’t look very happy, you need to look like you’re enjoying it’. And I felt sick.”

Rhiannon’s abuser was ultimately arrested by the police. He pleaded guilty at the last minute and was jailed.

Though the abuse has come to an end, Rhiannon says she continues to feel frightened that she will be recognised by strangers.

“It is sickening,” she said. “It’s an awful feeling that somebody is enjoying those images. I’d be frightened that someone could recognise me, that somebody might know that that’s me.

“Even if they are pulled offline, there could be many people that have those in their own personal private collections that are on their own computers. I don’t know where they are.”

Susie Hargreaves is the Chief Executive of the IWF. She said the IWF’s focus is on protecting children and victims of child sexual abuse. She said IWF analysts work tirelessly to remove thousands or images and videos of children being sexually abused.

“Some people think looking at this stuff online is a victimless crime,” Ms Hargreaves said. “They think watching it does no harm, and that their actions do not have consequences.

“These people are wrong. They are the criminals pushing up the demand for this evil exploitation, they are the reason children are being abused, and they are the reason, many years after the abuse has stopped, that some victims find it impossible to recover or move on.

“We are here to help. We work tirelessly to make sure this material, wherever it is shared, and wherever in the world it is stored, is wiped off the internet.”

Rhiannon is now able to discuss what happened to her publicly and is working as an ambassador with the Marie Collins Foundation, a charity that supports the recovery of children and young people who have been harmed in this way.

Her work highlights the impact on victims of these crimes, and gives a message of hope that recovery is possible.

Pixels from a Crime Scene is available to download at www.iwf.org.uk/pixels-from-a-crime-scene or on Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

The series will explore how children are targeted by pernicious criminals online, and how their abuse is spread all over the world. It will introduce listeners to the victims, the experts, and even the criminals involved, and will set out how we can go about fighting to make the internet safer for everyone.

Anyone who stumbles across child sexual abuse material online can report it to the IWF at https://report.iwf.org.uk/en. The IWF’s team of analysts will assess the material and remove child sexual abuse material from the internet.

Find out more about the Marie Collins Foundation and their work here:https://www.mariecollinsfoundation.org.uk/

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