As we mobilise towards Child Protection Week, which runs from 28 May to 4 June 2019, we urge parents to be vigilant with children in their care. The abuse of children continues to be a challenge that South Africa needs to work collectively to overcome.

The Western Cape High Court has reduced the sentence of a known paedophile, William Beale, from 15 years to 10 years after he was found guilty on more than 18 000 counts of possession of child pornography. Beale pleaded guilty to all charges and was initially sentenced to 15 years in jail which is the maximum sentence for possession of child pornography.

The images contained in the external hard-drive in the possession of Beale included boys and girls below the ages of two years, with some depicted being sexually abused. Beale used these images for his continued sexual gratification. Some of these images openly displayed the faces of the victims, who will have to deal with the stigma for the rest of their lives. The images will continue to be passed on from one person to another infinitely.

Was the 15-year sentence too harsh on Beale?

Often society’s attitude towards the likes of Beale is influenced by images of monster-like, solitary characters but research has shown that viewers of child pornography are more likely than not to be in a relationship, employed, have above average IQ and possess tertiary qualifications. In short, contrasted with the stereotype, these people can evoke public sympathy if asked to do so by a good advocate.

Beale’s lawyer at the Western Cape High Court for instance questioned the danger his client posed to society while viewing pornographic material in the privacy of his own home. He added that his client had shown no tendency of changing from what is commonly a “hands-off perpetrator” to a “hands-on perpetrator”. So, watching child sexual abuse materials is a victimless crime then? Apart from the absurdity of this argument, we know that using children to create pornography is illegal, not to mention grossly immoral. It is for a good reason that this paedophile hid his deeds.

The effects of child sexual abuse material on victims

And his victims have not experienced the worst of their life-long nightmare. Having their faces displayed in these materials is not the only problem these children will have to face. In addition to the immediate physical injury, the victims will most likely suffer a slew of effects: nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are just some of the long-term scars that come with experiencing such an ordeal, thanks to Beale and his cohort of child pornography users and traders.

The extent of the problem globally

This multi-billion-dollar illicit trade is carried out on the so-called Dark Web and only people with special access participate in this inhumane trade. Research shows that the demand for child pornography has been growing globally. This is thanks in part to developments in the Information Communications and Technologies (ICTs) which facilitate easy access and therefore drive demand. Today it is easy to get hold of devices that allow one to create, distribute and store large volumes of child sexual abuse material.

Statistics from Inhope, an international network of hotlines dedicated to eradicating child sexual abuse materials, show that 82% of these materials involve children between 0 – 13 years of age. So, far from a harmless viewer of pornography in the privacy of his home, Beale must have taken specific measures to access and build up his hoard of illegal material, fuelling this societal scourge.

An FPB Child Protection Officer, trained and certified by Inhope on content analysis, acted as an expert witness alongside law enforcement agencies in the investigation and prosecution of this case. This forms part of the organisation’s mandate of protecting children from premature exposure to pornography and ensuring that perpetrators of this heartless crime are punished by law. The FPB receives referrals from law enforcement agencies and members of the public daily, showing just how concerned the public is about this scourge.

The FPB feels strongly that reducing the sentence from the maximum of 15 years is a slap in the face of the victims and all those affected by child pornography, the children whose lives are irreversibly destroyed as well as their parents.

As we mobilise towards Child Protection Week, which runs from 28 May to 4 June 2019, we urge parents to be vigilant with children in their care. The abuse of children continues to be a challenge that South Africa needs to work collectively to overcome.

What can parents do to protect their children?

– Often children used in the child sexual abuse materials are not abducted, so someone known to the child and family could perpetrate this crime.

– Parents must cultivate a safe environment that allows children to speak freely about how they feel when adults or anyone around them ask them to do things that make them uncomfortable.

– Is your child being groomed to participate in this scourge?

Report suspected child pornography (or child sexual abuse materials) to the FPB’s Child Protection Hotline: or call 0800 148 148