The ever-evolving fight against child abusers

Gardaí have learned from the management of sex offenders that ‘they are very controlling and find different ways to offend’, writes Cormac O’Keeffe

The ever-evolving fight against child abusers

Gardaí have warned that child sex dolls will come to Ireland, if they are not already here.

It follows a landmark case in England, in which a 72-year-old primary school governor was convicted earlier this week of importing the dolls, which are child-like in appearance, weight, and anatomy.

“There’s no doubt that they will come to Ireland at some stage, if they are not already here and we need to be prepared for that,” said Chief Superintendent Michael Daly of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau.

He said they were “fairly horrible items” and that his officers were “very concerned” about them.

Chief Supt Daly said they had “not come across them yet” but said there was no reason why the same would not happen here as in the UK.

The British trial was seen as a test case, as a court was asked to make a ruling as to whether or not a child sex doll was indecent or obscene, which it did.

Lawyers for the defendant, David Turner, argued that the doll was not covered by the law banning the importation of obscene items.

The British National Crime Agency said it was the “first ruling of its kind”.

The NCA took the prosecution under Customs laws which make it an offence to import obscene or indecent items.

British Border Force Police, which seized the item, said it had been labelled as a mannequin.

When officers raided the home of Turner last December, they discovered two child sex dolls, which he kept in his study and seized a computer, tablets, external hard drives, and pen drives.

The charge against him related to a 3ft10in doll that was already in his possession, and which he had bought clothes for.

Analysis of his computers showed that he had viewed websites selling items advertised as “flat chested love doll” and “mini silicone sex doll 65cm little breasts”.

Turner admitted possessing more than 34,000 images of child abuse.

After he was arrested, he resigned as a school governor of St Ethelbert’s Church Primary School in Ramsgate, and from St Ethelbert’s and Gertrude Church, where he was a warden.

British police said they have seized 123 of the child sex dolls in little over a year.

The NCA said the dolls weigh around 25kg (around the weight of a seven- or eight-year-old child) and cost thousands of euro.

Manufactured typically in China, they are sold online, including on Amazon and eBay, and sent via courier, fast parcel, and other delivery services, the NCA said.

Chief Supt Daly said his officers have been examining the law in Ireland in this area, to see if it would cover these dolls.

“Our legislation appears to be wide enough,” he told the Irish Examiner. “It does seem to fall within child pornography laws.”

He said his staff in the various relevant sections, including the Online Child Exploitation Unit and the Sexual Crime Management Unit, had looked at the law and believed the dolls fell inside it.

Chief Supy Daly said, under the law, child pornography is described as “any visual representation that shows for a sexual purpose the genital or anal region of a child”.

Section 2.1 of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, amended by the Criminal Law Sexual Offences Act 2017, states that child pornography includes “any visual representation who dominant characteristic is the depiction, for a sexual purpose, of the genital or anal region of a child”.

Chief Supt Daly said that while visual representation has tended to refer to pictures, cartoons, and drawings, the legislation was “reasonably broad” and seemed to include “3D visual representations” like a plastic child sex doll.

“I’ve received full images [of the dolls] from UK police and the dolls to show those regions [genital and anal],” he said. “They are fairly horrible items.”

He said that while they believed the dolls fall within the child pornography laws, he said “this has not been tested in the courts yet”.

David Turner: Convicted in UK this week of obscenity for importing child sex doll.
David Turner: Convicted in UK this week of obscenity for importing child sex doll.

Professor of Law at the University of Limerick, Shane Kilcommins, said he believed the matter “would be contested in court” by defendants.

He said that while the definition of child pornography in the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 was “broad” and that it could be argued that it incorporated “3D visual representations” such as a plastic child sex doll, a defendant could also argue that it does not depict a child or that the doll does not equate with a child for the purposes of the legislation.

“Obviously the court will be the final arbiter on different legal arguments and interpretations,” said Prof Kilcommins. “If the conduct is not covered by the legislation, the obviously an amendment will be necessary to ensure that it is criminalised.”

Chief Supt Daly said they would be referring the matter and the laws to the Garda Siochána’s Legal Section for further clarity and advice.

He said they have learned from the management of sex offenders that “they are very controlling and find different ways to offend”.

He said: “Anyone who is importing one of these child sex dolls obviously has a sexual interest in children.”

He said they would be liaising with the PSNI, British police, and Revenue Customs here in relation to the matter.

In a statement, Revenue said prohibited items, including obscene material, may be seized by customs.

“Depending on the facts and circumstances, possession of dolls of the type referred to may constitute an offence under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998,” it said.

It said that, in such situations, a Customs officer may detain such goods and hand them to the gardaí as evidence in criminal proceedings.

Mary Flaherty of Cari, which provides therapy and support for children affected by child abuse, said they shared the concerns of gardaí.

“These dolls clearly do indicate a criminal interest in children,” she said.

Ms Flaherty said: “It will be important to ensure that we in Ireland are able to act to deal with the issues legislatively and that the gardaí are assured that the Irish legal framework is sufficiently robust to deal with this.”

She also pointed out that other preventative measures were needed to develop diversion and treatment programmes to prevent abuse along the lines of the Stop It Now Campaign in the UK, which she said was recommended by the Ferns Report and the Ferns 5 Working Group.

She added: “When the level of inappropriate and criminal interest in children evidenced by acquiring of these life-size dolls goes unchecked and results in actual abuse of children, we in Cari see the devastating long-term effects as we support children and families through disclosure, forensic examination through therapy and the Irish courts.”

Cari Helpline: 1890 924567

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