Psychologists have tried to look at what it means to the child to be photographed and for these photographs to be used in a sexual way (e.g. fantasy and/or masturbation etc). Here are some insights:
During the abuse
While it is convenient to think about photography as being separate from the actual abuse, for the majority of children this is not the case. Very often being photographed is PART OF the abuse; victims see the lasting photographical evidence as a continuation of the abuse they experienced.
“It is hard to describe what it feels like to know that at any moment, anywhere, someone is looking at pictures of me as a little girl being abused by my uncle and is getting some kind of sick enjoyment from it. It's like I am being abused over and over and over again.”
Knowing that images of themselves are circulating on the web, and that strangers use these photographs for inappropriate sexual purposes, causes on-going victimisation for those children involved.
“When I was told how many people had viewed these images and videos, I thought my pulse would stop….[it] makes me feel like I’m raped by each and every one of them.”
Abuse can produce physical symptoms, such as urinary infections and soreness around the genitalia or anus, headaches and vomiting. Depression, tiredness, difficulties in concentrating and nightmares are also common in such children. It can also lead to other problems, such as the child behaving or talking in a sexual way, acting out or behaving aggressively, as well as impacting on their relationships with other children and adult relationships when they are older. You can find out more about the impact of sexual abuse here.
“I am worried that when my friends are on the internet they are going to come across my pictures and it fills me with shame and embarrassment.”
During disclosure of what has happened
As with all forms of sexual abuse, children are reluctant to talk about what has happened. This may be very convenient for the adults involved, but increases the chance that the child will have problems in the future, such as depression or being unable to form trusting or loving relationships with other adults. When the abuse is photographed, this seems to increase the child's fear of talking about what has happened. Disclosures when eventually made are often limited, with the child only telling as much as they feel the person questioning them already knows. Feelings of shame, humiliation and helplessness are often accompanied by feelings of anxiety, with the child worried that the photograph may be viewed as evidence of co-operation on their part. The child may also feel that the fact that they were smiling may be seen as evidence that he or she was enjoying the experience.
“There is a lot I don't remember, but now I can't forget because the disgusting images of what he did to me are still out there on the internet.”
The long-term consequences of having been photographed can be more problematic than the short-term and can include:
- Intense bad feelings, such as a negative picture of themselves, long-term feelings of shame, hopelessness, an inability to feel anything or relate to anyone.
- A distressing awareness that even though the abuse has stopped, others may still be able to access their photographs and that there is nothing that they can do about it.
- Worry that the photographs may encourage the abuse of other children.
“Trust is a very hard thing for me and often people just make me uncomfortable. I had to quit a job had as a waitress because there was a guy who I thought was always staring at me. I couldn't stop thinking, did he recognise me? Did he see my pictures somewhere? I was simply too uncomfortable to keep working there.”
“I am horrified by the thought that other children will probably be abused because of my pictures. Will someone show my pictures to other kids, like my uncle did to me, then tell them what to do? Will they see me and think it's okay for them to do the same thing? Will some sick person see my picture and then get the idea to do the same thing to another little girl? These thoughts make me sad and scared.”
Quotes taken from statements by survivors Amy and Nicole after discovery that their abuse had led to the ‘Misty’ and ‘Vicki’ series of sexual abuse images. For the full statements follow these links: http://hamptonroads.com/2009/10/document-victim-impact-statement-girl-misty-series and http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/magazine/how-much-can-restitution-help-victims-of-child-pornography.html?_r=0