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.’
Blogging is something that I haven’t engaged in much during 2015. It has been a year largely dedicated to researching unregulated Internet sperm donors and cyber-enabled violence against women. It has involved extensive additional covert and overt fieldwork and analysis, coupled with the writing of safety guides, and the establishment of an educational campaign on the dangers associated with using unregulated Internet sperm donors. In essence, it has been a busy year.
With the airing of BBC Radio 4’s Out of the Ordinary, “Desperately Seeking Sperm,’ and the piece in the Daily Mail, ‘Unmasked: Sperm donor cowboy who’s ‘fathered 40 children…with 15 on the way’ as doctors warn of health time bomb of siblings born in 50-mile radius’, which exposed Declan Rooney (Upton North) as a man who prolifically fathers children via the Internet and SNS, a catalytic type-thing happened. I was inundated with mail and comments. Unsurprisingly, many women contacted me to share their experiences of violence and abuse meted out by men they had met via unregulated Internet sperm donor sites or SNS. Similarly, a vociferous group of men – (and a few women) – clone like, all adhering to, and celebrating rape culture, thought it appropriate to contact me to voice their chagrin. I was intrigued by their anger, their abusive outrage, and their collective sense of entitlement to abuse women and to continue to impregnate women unfettered; I realised there was more fieldwork to be done and the production of my research report would just have to wait. It was time to jump back into the field.
During this period, my blog has been pretty empty – it is fairly typical for researchers not to discuss the minutia of their research findings until post publication…hence my blogging silence over recent months. I could, of course, just blog for the sake of blogging and avoid discussing my fieldwork and my additional research findings; I could choose instead to blog about the fine details of qualitative data management, coding, or the analysis of a large data-set, but I shall save my readers from that type of boredom as it can make one’s eyes feel pretty numb unless one has a liking for qualitative research and data management.
The Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation is running a poster campaign to highlight the issue of sexual violence perpetrated by men using Internet sperm donor websites.
Sadly, the online sperm donor community is characterised by a profound rape culture where many men believe it is acceptable to rape or to sexually assault women during the ‘donation process.’ Such violence, however, is not confined to conception; women are also being sexually abused during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.
The thing about cyber life is that sperm donors often use numerous aliases – both male and female – to conceal their true identity. This ultimately means that it can be most difficult to obtain an accurate account of their character and whether they are safe to have a child with. It is imperative for women to remember also that just because some women had a good experience with a man they met via an Internet sperm donor website does not translate into the next woman having a similar experience. Sperm donors do not sexually assault or rape every women they meet; they are selective and tend to target victims carefully.
Teenage girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to the abuse committed by men using Internet sperm donor websites, and not least since the online/offline male culture blurs the lines between consensual and non-consensual sex.
The bottom line is that without consent, it is either sexual assault or rape.