The Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation has produced a new guide. It is entitled ‘Stay Safe in Cyberspace.’ This is a detailed guide on cyber-safety as well as cyber and digital abuse in the online sperm donor community. It is a must read for all women considering using the Internet for donor insemination. The guide is also essential reading for those working in midwifery, policy, academia, journalism, the police and the criminal justice system.
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.
In September, I shall be joining 450 delegates, 250 of whom will be delivering research papers at the European Conference on Domestic Violence. I too will be presenting a research paper at the Conference, besides attending the thought provoking sessions of colleagues, and meeting many who are working in the field of violence against women internationally.
The paper I am currently preparing concerns cyber-enabled gendered crime in the unregulated sperm donor community. Internet sperm donor sites and social networking sites, such as Facebook, are virtual places where women gather in order to meet men who “donate” their sperm – fresh gametes – in person. Intimate and sexual relationships are frequently forged within this reproductive context and as such when violence occurs, it often falls under the definition, ‘domestic violence,’ which has implications for criminal and civil laws.
There is a strong correlation between reproduction/pregnancy and violence against women. The cyber sperm donor community comprises a high risk masculinised arena, where online and offline lives conflate, and where one in two women will experience harm and violence. The research paper I shall be delivering at the ECDV will take issue with this violence and abuse. The paper is entitled, ‘This is Domestic Violence Too: Unregulated Internet Sperm ‘Donors’ and Violence Against Women Trying to Conceive, During Pregnancy, and in the Postpartum Period.’
I am a regular listener to Woman’s Hour and tuned into the podcast on ‘Illegal Sperm Donors,’ c.16.01.15 shortly after its airing. I am unsure why the programme was entitled ‘Illegal Sperm Donors,’ for neither civil nor criminal laws govern cyber-enabled donor conception. Indeed, unregulated sperm donation via the Internet has much in common with the Wild West as it is largely unregulated. Recently, I returned to the podcast for research purposes and within a few minutes of hearing the narrative of Erica Tranfield my fingers were trying to plug my ears for a second time. From the word go, Tranfield’s recital was little more than a business promotion and it drew creepy parallels with a sale’s pitch I encountered in a bike shop when I popped in some days ago to browse their 29ers MTBs. Now, I know quite a lot about MTBs and I know when I am being misled. Similarly, as a social scientist who has conducted a prolonged covert investigation into unregulated cyber-enabled sperm donation and the abuse of women, I knew Tranfield was similarly misleading the listening audience…and by default any woman who is considering utilizing the Internet – including Pride Angel – for donor conception.
Tranfield is the founder of Pride Angel, an established unregulated online sperm donation website, and as such she has a vested business interest in self-promotion, even if that means slipping off the truth track to promote Pride Angel as heads and shoulders above her market rivals when it comes to safety, banning NI donations, and the illegal sale in human gametes, as well as preventing all anonymous ‘donations.’ Wait a minute…or two, or even three, I have heard part of this sales pitch before. It was via Emma Hartnel-Baker, owner and marketer of FSDW. Here, we have two women, both owners of unregulated sperm donation websites, clambering for their market share of fresh sperm, live pregnancies, and the revenue it generates, whilst obfuscating the risks and dangers awaiting unsuspecting women.
The thing about conducting a long, laborious, and frequently challenging covert investigation into unregulated sperm donation and the abuse of women, is that I KNOW how these sites operate. Pride Angel does not differ from the multitude of other online sperm donation websites or groups on social media platforms when it comes to the safety of women or the welfare of children who are conceived via donor conception. Returning to Tranfield’s narrative on Woman’s Hour, I was struck, bluntly, by the self-edifice of her promotional message regarding several points, which I shall now turn to…
Tranfield stated that ‘as a company we are safer than any other website because we actually check all our profiles everyday and we screen them and suspend any offering natural insemination.’
This comprises a dangerous safety message. It is indicative of a marketing strategy that is being promoted above and beyond women’s safety, both online and offline. Sadly, the statement, which was aired over Radio 4, also suggests that Tranfield has little or no knowledge of cyber-enabled violence against women…including rape and sexual assault. Men do not always state on their profiles that they want or expect NI – sex. Instead, they will request sexual intercourse or sexual contact once they have established contact with a woman, usually by personal chat, or email, or they will request/demand sex when they meet a woman in person after agreeing to donate by artificial insemination.
By default, Tranfield’s safety claims suggest that women are not at risk of sexual orientated crimes via Pride Angel simply because she screens donor profiles for NI and any donor therefore offering or requesting sex is suspended. This is dangerously misleading and is on a par with the claims of Emma Hartnel-Baker, who in turn alleges that her own site, FSDW, comprises the only ‘AI’ sperm donor site in the world.
Tranfield asserted, ‘We don’t allow anybody to offer anonymous donations.’
This is a woefully misleading claim in the arena of cyber donor conception, and especially, when one remembers that children will be conceived via this route. Yes…there are serious child welfare issues at stake here in relation to anonymous donations. Research conducted by the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation found that most men donating sperm hid behind false names, and gave false information about their occupation, family histories, home address, whilst also routinely telling untruths about their marital status, and how many children they had already fathered. As a website, Pride Angel, cannot regulate who hides behind an alias and who does not. Claims purporting to ban anonymous donations are simply fanciful; legal regulations do not exist to enforce the disclosure of the parents’ names and other identifiable information via cyber sperm donor sites. Moreover, Pride Angel and other platforms similarly lack the powers to self-regulate.
In essence, Tranfield’s claim that Pride Angel does not permit anonymous donations is a reflection of an unenforceable code of conduct. It does not, however, reflect the lived practices of parents and potential parents using the platform for donor conception. Indeed, there is a tacit rule in the cyber sperm donor community that men – donors – can remain anonymous, but women should reveal their full names and personal details. To this effect, many sperm donor websites – FSDW is a classic example – and groups on social networking sites – such as Facebook – encourage men to hide behind aliases. This simply fuels and supports the mechanics of stalking and the abuse of women, whilst also laying the bedrock for intractable child welfare issues, such as anonymous donations. Tranfield may wish to discourage anonymous donations in donor conception, perhaps evinced be her statement, ‘we don’t allow anybody to offer anonymous donations,’ however, this simply cannot be regulated at present.
Tranfield is essentially claiming that any woman who uses Pride Angel will know the father of her child/children. For the founder of an unregulated sperm donor platform, this is a highly irresponsible message to promote. Surely, it is imperative for women to be educated about the fact that overwhelmingly men hide behind aliases and fictitious biographies, meaning that children born via “donor conception” may never know the true identity of their biological and legal father and who their half siblings may be.
Tranfield claimed, ‘We don’t allow anyone to request payment for sperm, other than expenses.’
Tranfield cannot regulate or police whether men choose to violate the law by selling fresh gametes. It is simply not possible, for Pride Angel is little more than an introductory site that facilitates communication – at a price – between women wishing to conceive and men ‘donating’ sperm. Moreover, the issue of what constitutes ‘expenses’ is highly questionable. Research conducted by the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation has found that it is commonplace for women to be financially exploited by men selling fresh gametes and indeed, Pride Angel is not immune. Furthermore, the HFEA has demonstrated very little interest in pursuing those men who openly break the law by selling fresh gametes via sperm donor websites and social media platforms, such as Facebook.
Tranfield asserted, ‘We also have a report abuse system whereby any user can report inappropriate messages or behaviour.’
Sadly what is missing from this statement is a clear definition of what constitutes ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and I would argue that the interviewer, Jenni Murray, had a duty to press Tranfield for an explanation on this serious issue. For instance, are we referring here to sexual offences, cyberstalking, or other types of criminal behaviour? It would seem that we are not, for Tranfield failed to hint at such behaviour, even though the cyber sperm donor community is a highly sexualized environment, where a culture of rape prevails, along with insidious rape myths and heinous victim blaming. I suspect that Tranfield failed to define inappropriate behaviour over the airways of Radio 4 as it would constitute a bad business move; from a marketing perspective, the last thing a sperm donor website needs is the socially constructed imagery of genuine and benevolent men ‘donating’ sperm associated with serious criminal offences, such as rape or sexual assault.
Watch this space
Very soon, I shall be launching, The Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation
Whilst many women using unregulated sperm donors have an uneventful experience, many women do not; instead they experience abuse during their journey to motherhood. Indeed, findings from my extensive research into sperm donor abuse indicates that 1 in 2 women will be abused and victimised. These cases are not isolated events; they are part of a wider pattern of acceptable male violence towards women trying to conceive, violence towards women during their pregnancies, and violence towards women after they have given birth to their babies. The online sperm donor community does not regulate the behaviour of abusive men ‘donating’ sperm…it stands back, and allows it to happen, time and time again. Women are frequently involved in condoning and supporting this abusive culture…a culture that permits rape and sexual abuse, and a culture that turns against and vilifies the abused.
The SDA Foundation believes that it is every woman’s Human Right to be able to conceive a child without enduring violence and sexual abuse. SDA is committed to:
- Conducting policy research into sperm donor abuse
- Raising public and policy awareness about sperm donor abuse, which is largely invisible
- Sharing knowledge with midwifery and antenatal services to identify pregnant women at risk and thus increase the support available to them
- Signposting and referring women onto support services who are currently experiencing, or have historically experienced, violence or harm by a man/men ‘donating’ sperm
My Research Briefing on internet sperm donors and violence against women is now available. Please, click on the link (PDF) below.