Teen accused of downloading child abuse images granted supervised Internet access

A then 15-year-old girl accused of downloading videos and images of infants and young children being raped and tortured has been allowed supervised Internet access solely for educational purposes.

Strict bail conditions were amended on Monday as the Dublin Children’s Court granted prosecutors more time to complete the book of evidence for her trial.

The young woman, now 18, is charged with two offences under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act.

The court heard it was alleged the teen believed paedophilia was acceptable and that she could use the Dark Web, a specialised Internet browser for hidden sites online.

She is accused of possessing 348 images and 196 videos classified as category one, graphically featuring sexual activity.

Gardaí also charged her with having 432 images assessed as category two, showing child exposure.

Volume of material

The investigation commenced after the National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children in the United States contacted Irish authorities in 2019.

Due to the volume and depravity of the material, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) recommended trial on indictment in the Circuit Court which has broader sentencing powers.

At a preliminary juvenile court hearing earlier this month, Judge Paul Kelly agreed with the DPP, and he refused jurisdiction.

Garda Inspector Conor O Braonain said American authorities informed Gardaí of the presence of child sex abuse images, an image of a naked female with genitals visible, and a video in a Google account.

Gardaí used her IP address to find where she lived and then forensically examined her phone. Files were extracted onto a hard drive and analysed.

Harrowing background

Inspector O Braonain said one video, made in the Philippines, featured an 18-month-old raped and physically tortured.

In the presence of a parent, the teenage girl later signed a consent form giving Gardaí the password to her online account.

Inspector O Braonain also linked images to a specific Dropbox computer file account and requested mutual assistance from US authorities. As a result, in 2020, Gardaí could analyse the contents of the Dropbox file.

It contained hundreds of jpeg image files and videos arranged in 16 folders with specific titles. The material featured oral, anal and vaginal rape, by adults, of children including infants as young as four months and a three-year-old and a girl aged seven or eight.

The folders had different titles, including “two-year-old” and “toddler raped” and one about a named baby.

Defence solicitor Eoghan O’Sullivan, said the girl attended Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and had a harrowing background. The Garda Inspector also accepted she assisted in the investigation, and since then, Tusla admitted her into special care.

The court heard she was groomed at the age of 10 in this behaviour. It came to the attention of social workers in 2015 following concerns she had been sexually exploited online. Tusla provided her with therapeutic support, and social workers ensured she never left her accommodation alone.

Mr O’Sullivan asked the court to note her harrowing background and that the girl was immature at the time of the offences. She had no prior criminal convictions, the court heard.

Lacking empathy

Inspector O Braonain had said the girl had not been diagnosed with any mental health conditions, but she lacked empathy and believed a child’s abduction, torture, and murder was okay. He alleged she showed no remorse and was manipulative.

He also cited the level of planning used and that she kept it a secret from her family. Inspector O Braonain also said she was “technically competent” and “can comfortably navigate the Dark Web”.

He had alleged she also told him she would buy a phone to download imagery of child sexual abuse after turning 18.

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He also said that “she identifies paedophilia as an acceptable sexuality and is awaiting the opportunity to commit a contact offence” adding that “her sexual boundaries are very much distorted”.

The court had imposed strict bail conditions, including banning her from having or using any internet-capable device, now except for supervised educational purposes.

She must also not leave her accommodation unaccompanied or apply for a passport.

The judge reminded the court that reporting restrictions apply regarding the case.

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