Justice Frank Seepersad –
A HIGH COURT judge has been asked to mandate the State to implement mechanisms and put resources in place so that crimes against children, in particular sex crimes, can be investigated swiftly.
The request is part of a constitutional claim filed by the Humanitarian Foundation for Positive Social Change which has asked for several declarations as well as an order directing the State to put measures and resources in place for swift investigations.
The foundation’s claim came up for hearing last week before Justice Frank Seepersad who ordered the filing of affidavits in July and August. The matter has been adjourned to September 19.
The foundation is represented by attorney Lee Merry while Michael Quamina SC represents the State.
The claim contends the State must ensure all reports of criminal offences under the Children’s Act are investigated expeditiously.
It also maintains that the State, or its agents, have failed to investigate reports of criminal offences against victims of online child predators although sufficient evidence has been given to the police.
The lawsuit accuses the police of failing to complete investigations into reports already made by victims.
Excessive delays in investigations, the foundation said, could lead to the destruction of evidence and the commission of offences against other child victims.
It also maintained that failure to investigate has also led to harm to those who have made reports as they have been subjected to online abuse.
In support of the claim, a 25-year-old online child porn victim recounted what she has endured over the years, starting from the age of 15. She said she allowed an ex-boyfriend to take pornographic photos of her which she “deeply regretted.”
Admitting she did not fully appreciate the consequences of her actions at that young age, she said years later, she received a message from a fake social media account which contained a link to a popular pornographic website.
Some of the images she saw were those taken of her. Her name and other identifying information were also provided.
“I felt violated, threatened and unsafe in addition to feeling deeply disturbed and humiliated.” However, the images had, by then, been shared by many Trinidadians in online social media groups, she said.
She reported it to the police and also began an investigation to find out how many people shared her images. It was then she discovered there were photos and videos of young girls, mostly Trinidadians, who appeared to be minors, whose personal information was also shared with those accessing the images.
She said there are many illicit online sex groups on social media and another report was made to the police. The lawsuit said the police were given a flash drive with the information, but months later it was allegedly “lost” by the investigator.
It also said the victim was told she should forget about the matter as she could be in danger and was also contacted by a specialised unit in the police service and told nothing can be done to assist her.
“The inaction of the TTPS in relation to my report left me deeply frustrated and affected my mental health.”
She said her attorneys had advised that the information she supplied the police in the first two reports was sufficient for any police officer to reasonably suspect an offence had been committed and to obtain a search warrant for further evidence.
In November 2021, another report was made to the police. Meanwhile, the lawsuit said the victim’s images continued to be shared daily in various illicit online sex groups.
Again in 2022, another report was made to the police. It was only after sex crime activist and attorney Jonathan Bhagan wrote about a social media porn ring, was the victim contacted by the police. An official report of 17 names, 42 website addresses and two online storage folders was given to investigators.
The victim said she was jeered and gawked at by officers who took three statements from her and told her a fourth was needed but since August 2022, she has heard nothing from them.
Reports were also made to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) providing names of police officers including one who is allegedly a participant in one of the online sex groups.
Meanwhile, the victim says, “The activities of the illicit online sex groups have worsened in the intervening period.”
By May, the number of groups tripled.
“It is essential that reports of illicit online sex groups be investigated expeditiously,” the lawsuit maintains since, it said, website addresses changed frequently; the images are shared with millions in a short time and can also be deleted with the same speed so the police had to act quickly to get evidence to prosecute perpetrators.
The victim said she will not find peace until something is done as it appears the perpetrators have become emboldened because of the inaction of the police.