FPB welcomes sentencing in high-profile CSAM case

  • The FPB played a big role in analysing the CSAM content Gerhard Ackerman had in his possession.
  • The Board’s analysis and work to identify CSAM continues together with international bodies.
  • “We shall never rest until each one of them are behind bars,” chief executive officer at the FPB, Dr Mashilo Boloka said of those exploiting children.

This week the High Court in Johannesburg made a decision in which Gerhard Ackerman received 12 life sentences. This astronomical sentence came after Ackerman was found guilty on over 700 charges earlier this year.

The charges are harrowing and while you can read the full judgment here, we recommend you don’t click that link if you are of a sensitive disposition.

While Ackerman was found guilty of trafficking children, sexual assault, and more, he was also found guilty of possessing child sexual abuse material (CSAM), contravening the Films and Publications Amendment Act. A body that played a crucial role in gather the evidence the state needed in its case was the Film and Publication Board (FPB).

This makes sense as the body would be deeply involved in the case given Ackerman’s possession of CSAM. What is rather comforting to know is that while this was a high profile case, the FPB isn’t waiting for crimes to be reported and it’s actively searching for nefarious individuals.

“We warmly welcome the heavy sentence and hope it sends a strong warning to other offenders out there that we, together with the Law Enforcement agencies and other partners, will sniff them out of the corners wherever they are hiding. We shall never rest until each one of them are behind bars,” chief executive officer at the FPB, Dr Mashilo Boloka said in a statement.

The job of detecting CSAM is a tough one. While there are several tools that can automatically detect this content, those tools rely on content that has been found and marked as CSAM. Unfortunately, human moderators need to fill in the gaps that these tools can’t fill.

To that end, the FPB says it employs internationally certified content analysts who are trained to ascertain whether people depicted in suspected CSAM are in fact children.

“FPB Child Protection Officers are trained on Safety and Risk Assessment in the field of Child Protection and are Certified Content Analysts. The rise of the digital space has made the work of the FPB and Law Enforcement in fighting CSAM particularly challenging. Sexual predators find an anonymous home on the internet where it is easy to build a persona that is very different from reality that can be used to exploit others,” says Boloka.

The board adds that it works with the likes of Interpol and the International Association of Internet Hotlines to track CSAM that is created and distributed by international syndicates and finds its way into South Africa.

While we commend the FPB on its efforts here, we also have to acknowledge that Ackerman and his alleged associates had been operating for years without being caught. We hope that new updated legislation and a more high-tech law enforcement system can improve this and keep more children out of harm’s way.


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