Caught in the Net
The following article talks about child abuse and may contain triggers. If you need help, contact 999 in the UK or Samaritans, 116 123.
We all know online child abuse exists, but it is a very unpalatable topic to talk about, or indeed, to learn the extent to which it happens and the ease of perpetrations. It is easier to turn a blind side and hope to never encounter it.
That’s why it is not easy to watch “Caught in the Net” and see explicitly the kind of abuse that children experience online, at the hand of adults. However, the dedication of the filmmakers and the actresses, the plan they carefully crafted to shed light onto these tenebrous worlds, is incredible and the documentary is so well constructed. Just when one thinks they have witnessed the extent to which online predators go to, a new chapter begins and the boundaries are pushed once more.
In “Caught in the Net”, filmmakers Barbora Chalupová and Vít Klusák create a high-fidelity scenario where three adult actresses (Sabina Dlouhá, Anezka Pithartová & Tereza Tezkápretend) bravely pretend to be children of 12 years of age. They have their own rooms filled with juvenile art, toys, and decorations. The dedication and precision to which the film crew goes to make those environments perfect is impressive and admirable, making the whole situation even more uncomfortable- it is as if they are trying to yell in the faces of the perpetrators “Look, this is a child you are talking to and making sexual advances towards”.
In an adult-child duo, it is always the adult who has a duty of care towards the child. A child who stays in a conversation that is clearly uncomfortable or inappropriate is there because of pressure, because on the other side of the screen there is an adult who tells them what to do, and children have learnt to listen to them. It is an astounding imbalance of power and the conversation is by no means carried between equals.
One thing that struck me and that the documentary explored very well was that in the minds of those adult predators the inappropriate things they were doing and saying were not wrong, and that they did not think of how it would affect the children not only in the moment but also after the interaction was over. It truly seemed to be, as a "utilitarian use of a child". It's a sexual act devoid of any intimacy, and of any consent.
We must also look at the huge part that social media plays into this. All of the calls in the documentary were placed through social media. It has been shown countless times how social media plays a negative part into how teenagers see themselves and that it negatively affects their mental health, especially targeting girls*. The perpetrators, however, saw it as a channel through which they could go and subject a child to unwanted advances. Even when there is no physical meeting, such experiences may have long-lasting damage on a child’s mind, and it can influence the way they perceive men and relationships for years to come. To gauge the extent of such damage, the three actresses from the documentary had security and therapists present on set and yet they reported having nightmares for a few months after ten days of being exposed to the online world as a child of 12.
"Caught in the Net" is a documentary we should all watch to learn from and ensure children are protected from online abuse. It is now available on the following platforms: iTunes, Virgin Media, Sky Store, Google Play, YouTube, BFIPlayer, Rakuten, Chili.
*The effects of social media on teenagers: https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/well-being/effect-of-social-media-on-teenagers/