Whilst my partner and I count down the last couple of days to the birth of our baby, I am busy finalising a report to be submitted before Parliament on unregulated sperm donor cyber-platforms and violence against women. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by Parliament and Policy. It has been a gamble, however, in terms of completion: would our baby eagerly make an impromptu arrival before the completion of the report or would I have a sufficiently easygoing pregnancy to allow the report to be finalized before I am cast into mothering a newborn baby alongside a small child? My partner is optimistically stoical, for he knows that both journeys have overlapped and have been entwined and the up and coming events will come to fruition somewhat organically.
Has my pregnancy had a bearing upon the way I engage with the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation? Negatively, certainly not; unless one counts managing round the clock morning sickness whilst being interviewed by the BBC for their ‘Inside Out’ documentary on the darker side of sperm donation. Being a mother to a small child already, however, has provided me with considerable empathy and insight into the profound difficulties some women face when they lack access to male gametes to conceive and the horrific abuse they are at risk of experiencing when they take those first steps to enter a cyber world of unregulated men trading gametes usually for sex and increasingly for money.
Should my pregnancy contribute anything to the work of the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation it is that it has been a salutary reminder of just how vulnerable women are during reproduction and pregnancy, making them easy targets for rape, sexual abuse, and exploitation. The peer support, which is provided by the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation, has grown in popularity with increasing numbers of women accessing this vital service. Whilst there are always commonalities in the cases we deal with, each case remains unique both in terms of specific circumstances and the affects upon the individual woman requesting support and guidance. Through our peer support work we see the real human toll, the misery, fear, confusion, and the uncertainty for the future, which is caused by men seizing unregulated sperm donor cyber-platforms as an easy vehicle to exploit and abuse women who require gametes to conceive a child. The human toll of exploitation and abuse, however, is also facilitated by owners and administrators of websites and Facebook Groups, which fail to take any responsibility for abusers, and in some cases, actively support perpetrators of abuse.
As we count down the final days hours to the arrival of our newborn, I know that I am fortunate, for my current pregnancy has been free from exploitation and any form of abuse. Yet, I also know only too well, that violence frequently accompanies conception and pregnancy. It is this knowledge that propels the work of the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation.
As the Founder of the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation, I was interviewed by Natalie Graham for BBC ‘Inside Out’ South East (22 February 2016). Whilst the episode was compact, it nevertheless packed a mighty punch at raising awareness about the risks and dangers that await women when they go online to find an unregulated sperm donor. Laura Witjens recounted her experience of researching unregulated Internet sperm donation. We disturbingly heard how online sperm donors had sent her videos of masturbation and other men had told ‘porkies about themselves.’ A brave lesbian couple stepped forth to be interviewed. They had gone online hoping to find an altruistic donor to help them conceive. Instead, they soon discovered that genuine and safe men were outweighed by those placing pressure for sex or wanting to do harm. Can you see the theme emerging?
In all too typical fashion, the man surfing unregulated Internet sperm donor sites to impregnate one woman after another through sex or by artificial insemination hid behind the cloak of anonymity. In that regard, the question must be posed…‘is he also hiding behind an alias and concealing his identity when he sires children’? By his own admission, he reached the HFEA family limit of donating sperm via a fertility clinic before he stepped into the unregulated cyber-world where he has subsequently sired ‘scores of children.’ Should anyone have been expecting to hear his narrative of altruism and kindness, it was never articulated. Instead, we the watching and listening audience, were confronted by a man whom, by his own admission, was using cyberspace to sire scores of children because he needed an ego boost. I suppose man, in his primitive form (and men with personality disorders), get an ego massage from the irresponsibility of siring children with countless different women. We also know that many men cruising unregulated Internet sperm donor sites and social media platforms are looking for sex (consensual or coercive)…and if they just happen to get a sexual kick from impregnating women…they have struck lucky. This man is no different from the vast number of unregulated sperm donors we have researched….altruism and kindness are rare to unearth in this cyber community. What is easy to find by the bucket load, however, are men striving to profiteer financially by selling gametes illegally and those men perpetually searching for sexual gratification.
We do not know how many children have been born as a consequence of the unregulated cyber trade in sperm. But the man interviewed by Natalie Graham was clearly motivated by sex and fathering large numbers of children with different women. Should anyone be under the illusion that he is altruistic, let’s not forget his comment, where he compared fathering children to ‘taking out the dustbins.’
As the Founder of the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation, I hear women’s narratives of sexual abuse – abuse perpetrated by men cruising unregulated sperm donor websites and Facebook Groups. Women using this cyber route for conception are easy targets and easy victims for predatory men in this highly sexualised and exploitative environment, which is little more than a trade route. The power imbalance – men hold the sperm and women need it – immediately creates the mechanisms for abusive patterns of behaviour. This is an arena where repeat sexual offenders operate and violence against women is completely normalised and condoned. It should come as little surprise therefore that it is commonplace for owners and administrators of sperm donor websites and FB Groups to leap to the defence of abusive men and/or to engage in campaigns to silence women with the courage to speak up about their abusive experiences.
The power imbalance – men hold the sperm and women need it – immediately creates the mechanisms for abusive patterns of behaviour.
As a trading route, there are vested interests in protecting the status quo – vested interests that are deemed worthy to fight for. In that regard, some owners and administrators of sperm donor sites want to protect their reputations and they want to keep the money coming in should they levy joining and usage fees. Then, we have those men who do not want to stop sexually abusing women in the guise of helping them to conceive a child. We also have an increasing number of men who want to continue profiteering financially by selling gametes illegally. And what about those men and women whom passively stand back and turn a blind eye to abusive conduct?
Unless women step forth and speak up to report abusive men – such men will simply move on to select their next victim.
As a woman and also as the Founder of the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation, I advocate that it is a woman’s choice as to whether she reports her abuser to the police, as there are many critical issues to take into consideration. But herein lies the rub. Unless women step forth and speak up to report abusive men – such men will simply move on to select their next victim. If there is one thing we know about men who commit rape and sexual assault, it is that they have a strong tendency to be repeat offenders. Such men (sex offenders) do not necessarily rape or sexually assault every woman they meet or form an intimate relationship with. Instead, they are selective, carefully choosing their victims.
All too frequently in this cyber world of trading sperm, men launch themselves to defend an online buddy accused of commissioning a sexual offence. Supporters assert that the accused is a ‘great guy,’ or ‘he’d never hurt anyone.’ Supporters go on to argue, that the accused, ‘has donated tons of times and no one else has ever complained.’ Or the argument is raised that the ‘victim is a troublemaker,’ or that ‘she has a bone to pick,’ or ‘she’s crazy,’ or ‘she’s nasty.’ Immediately, the accused man is exonerated and the female victim is vilified and accused of making a false allegation. Why? Because the unregulated online sperm donor community gives rise to a macho sexualised culture, which condones all forms of violence against women, whilst supporting rape and sexual assault as legitimate ways to impregnate women.
Let’s face it, which woman wants to explain to her child/ren that the man who ‘kindly’ helped mummy have a baby was later prosecuted for being a sex offender?
Mothers of children fathered by the accused may vocally step forth too. But their motivations for offering support and defending the accused whilst simultaneously striving to silence the voice of the abused are clearly more personal. Such women are fundamentally striving to protect and preserve the imagery and reputation of their child/ren’s ‘donor’ father. Let’s face it, which woman wants to explain to her child/ren that the man who ‘kindly’ helped mummy have a baby was later prosecuted for being a sex offender? In one fail swoop, such bravery would denounce the ‘donor’ father as good and altruistic and replace this idealised sperm donor image with that of a serious criminal responsible for commission sexual offences upon vulnerable women. Those women whom strive to defend sex offending sperm ‘donors’ in a bid to protect their own children’s sense of identity are guilty of cowardice and they lack any sense of humanitarian or civic duty; not only do they remove vital support for victims, but they similarly allow sex offending ‘sperm donors’ to target other women.
Of course, that is just one factor leading women to protect the accused. Some women who have engaged in AI (artificial insemination) or sexual activity with the accused whilst endeavouring to conceive have either experienced a normal encounter, or should they have been sexually assaulted, they may not have defined the act as such. Let’s face it; accepting that one has been sexually assaulted or raped opens up a can of unpleasant worms. It means that the person we once trusted now needs to be re-framed as a sexual offender. That can be a giant psychological leap in the event of being the victim of a serious crime. It also opens the door as to whether he ought to be reported to the police. Such decisions occur in circumstances few understand – the unregulated world of Internet sperm donation. Let us not forget the issue too of fear and retribution, which at its most basic level can lead women to remain silent, or even prompt some to give the appearance of outwardly supporting the accused.
In time, however, it is hoped that more women will come forth and report sex offenders operating within the cyber sperm donor community. Those women, whom demonstrate such courage and bravery by reporting offences to the police, are taking a decisive step towards protecting other women (and potentially children too).