Child Focus is outraged by the "lax verdict" for the accused men in what the organisation has called "the biggest child pornography case" in Belgium, as three of the perpetrators could soon be at large again.
On Tuesday, the correctional court of Dendermonde found four men guilty of possessing, creating and distributing child pornography, incitement to child abuse, child abuse, and human trafficking for a total of 13 years. For a fifth man, the judge first wants a psychiatric examination to know if he suffers from a mental disorder, reports De Morgen.
“I have been in this sector for almost 25 years and thought I had seen everything. But never everything in one file, like now,” CEO of Child Focus, the Centre for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children, Heidi De Pauw, told Het Laatste Nieuws.
The men, two Belgians, a Briton and a Dutchman, received an effective prison sentence between five and sixteen years. However, a large part of that sentence has already been served in pre-trial detention, and only half of the sentence has to be carried out, according to Child Focus. "Except for two, the accused men may soon be at large again," the organisation added.
The verdict is "a slap in the face of all victims," the organisation, acting civil party in the case, said in a statement on its website. "Think of all the suffering that was inflicted. These victims are scarred for life and, unlike the perpetrators, they do not come off so easy. Not after 5, 6, 7 or 16 years (or half of that in the event of a possible early release), because they carry the scars with them for the rest of their lives," they added.
The court is sending "a completely wrong signal to (potential) perpetrators, and the population" with this verdict, Child Focus said, pointing to the 15 terabytes of sexual abuse images of minors the accused were (partly) responsible for.
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"If you know that this matches all the texts from fifteen major university libraries, then the terrible reality is such that we have to talk about millions of photos and videos of defenceless children. Millions of abuse images, from every category (from newborn babies to violent content), and many of which are new material," the organisation stated.
"They were exchanged at Christmas markets, but also through social media, private messages, chats, team viewer, the dark web and other means of communication," it added.
Additionally, the organisation denounces the lack of guilt on the part of the perpetrators, of which some said that "they are paedophiles and there is nothing they can do about it," or there was no therapy available.
The light punishment "almost nullifies" the hard work of the police investigators who succeeded in uncovering a broadly branched and incredibly complex network in the fight against the sexual exploitation of children, said Child Focus.
The Brussels Times