Our new post campaign is here to highlight violence against women, which is perpetrated by men using unregulated Internet sperm donor sites.
Let's Stop Blaming Female Victims of Sex Crimes: Sex Offenders and Unregulated Internet Sperm 'Donor' Platforms
It is a sad reflection of our culture that so many people find it far easier to blame a female victim of sex crime than to scrutinize the actions of the male perpetrator who has committed the heinous crime(s). This cultural assignment of blame is inevitably heaped upon the victim when she returns to see the perpetrator, without any consideration for the complex factors or circumstances involved. In the case of women who are sexually assaulted or raped by men they have met via unregulated Internet sperm donor platforms, there is a profound ignorance of the complex socio-economic and psycho-social factors that compel them to maintain contact with their abuser in order to conceive a child. Of course, blaming a female victim for being raped will always be the easier choice in contrast to critically scrutinizing and accepting that a man - perhaps one we know - is in actual fact a sex offender. Women who log online to locate a man to help with conception are not asking to be raped or sexually assaulted - they do not deserve to be the victim of serious sexual offences. When such crimes are committed, we need to understand that walking away from such intimate abuse is not always the easiest or most straightforward option. Some women may continue to see their abuser to try and conceive a child and we need to understand the complex factors guiding their behaviour rather than simply judging such behaviour in a cultural vortex. Below, is just a snapshot of reasons why women may not walk away from sex offenders in the unregulated sperm donor cyber community.
Our Director and Founder, Claire McQuoid, was interviewed by Natalie Graham for BBC 1 'Inside Out' South East (22.02.16), about our policy research on sperm donor abuse. 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.'
10th February 2016. The date has yet to arrive, but when it does, it shall represent a historic moment for the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation. For the past year, we have been working towards establishing a helpline to offer peer support, advice and information, for women who have used, or, are considering using, unregulated sperm donor websites or social media, such as Facebook, to have a baby. The Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation is non-judgmental and knows only too well that every woman's journey is different and that there are many reasons that lead women online to find a sperm donor. Perhaps the two greatest reasons motivating women to go online comprise, 1) the high costs associated with fertility clinics for donor insemination, 2) the desire to get to know the 'donor' father.
Women considering using online sperm donor sites often envisage an uncomplicated, straightforward, and safe journey to motherhood. Whilst some women do find that to be the case, many others do not. This is an online community where violence, particularly sexual violence, is completely normalised. It is also a culture where men routinely strive to father vast numbers of children, irrespective of the profound child welfare issues, whilst at the same time frequently going to great lengths to conceal their true identity.
Our helpline will be there to offer women a listening ear, peer support, as well as information and advice on all aspects of using unregulated online sperm donor sites.
The personal price girls and women pay for pregnancy and live births is so frequently underestimated. Whilst our society prefers to focus upon the joyful aspects of pregnancy and motherhood, often with a consumerist slant – pregnancy and babies generate revenue, little attention is ever paid to the personal safety or the inherent risks of pregnancy. Here, we refer not to the obstetrics or medical complications of gestation, but those dangers flowing instead from intimate and/or familial bonds with the male partner and/or the father of the unborn child. Pregnancy and violence for many women is interwoven. It is a time when some women will experience violence in their relationships for the first time or the perpetrators will increase the quantity or severity of violence during the gestation. Indeed, over one third of domestic violence starts in pregnancy (Lewis and Drife, 2001, 2005, McWilliams and McKiernan, 1993). Violence in pregnancy is also a significant cause of miscarriage and stillbirth (Mezey, 1997).
The unregulated world of Internet sperm donation is a brutal assault on the senses; it is far removed from the glossy marketing brochures depicting safe, pedestrian, and orderly, approved fertility clinics. In contrast, the cyber platform of sperm donor websites and social networking sites are a myriad of misogyny and rape culture where the chances of a woman avoiding rape, sexual abuse, or a string of other harmful and abusive behaviors, comes down to potluck rather than her application of sense and sensibility. The man with the best career and family pedigree is just as likely to engage in criminally abusive behaviour as his poorer cousin.
For the uninitiated, unregulated Internet sperm donation constitutes a non-medicalized world that lures women with the promise of easy pregnancy and the family they long for, without any complications. What could appear easier than logging online to find an altruistic man to donate his sperm to create new life? The want, the need, and the obsession, to have a child when one lacks sperm, is a powerful emotion, which has been given the opportunity to burgeon into an achievable dream with the advent of unregulated online sperm donor websites and SNS. For many that dream has already reached an impasse with the increasing difficulty of accessing IVF – free at the point of delivery. And where one door to pregnancy closes, another is already gapping wide open, and it can be accessed from the comfort of one’s own home (workplace, café, etc.), without GP appointments, and the unforgiving financial costs associated with HFEA fertility clinics for donor insemination.
The cultural and media representation of sperm donors as altruistic and only too willing to help women realise their dreams of motherhood is a significant factor that leads women en masse into cyberspace to locate the future father of their children. Like many facets in our cyber-driven age, things are not what they first appear to be when one takes the plunge into this murky world of unregulated sperm donation; it is a cyber and cultural milieu where pregnancy and babies can be had for a price. That transaction is often financial and it is also frequently a trade in gender based abuse. Whichever way one looks at unregulated Internet sperm donation, it is a boundless trade; what legislation does exist, goes woefully unenforced by the HFEA. This is not “donation” in the altruistic sense; it is a trade, which is premised upon the exploitation of women with the inevitable winners and losers.
Rape and sexual assault are serious criminal offences and yet within the online sperm donor community such offences are interwoven into the very fabric of male culture; a culture which many men and even some women accept and perpetuate. This is also a culture that is worryingly supported - rather than challenged - by some owners of sperm donor websites and/or administrators of sperm donor Facebook Groups.
The high incidence of intimate violence in the online sperm donor community indicates that repeat offenders operate via sperm donor websites and Facebook Groups. This is an important fact to remember - if you have been sexually assaulted or raped by a man using sperm donor websites or social networking sites, you may not have been his first victim, or indeed, his last.
The SDA Foundation respects a woman’s decision to report, or not to report, rape or sexual assault to the police. Many women in society decide to report sexual offences to the police because they do not want the offender to hurt other women.
If you are undecided about reporting what has happened to you to the police, you can still have forensic evidence collected (time is important, ideally within 72 hours of the assault) whilst you make your mind up and the results can be stored. The forensic medical examination can take place at your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), details of which can be obtained via contacting the police or NHS 111 non-emergency service.
However, even if the rape(s) or sexual assault(s) happened months or years ago, it is still possible to report the crimes to the police. This is what is known as historic sexual offences. Other women may have raised similar complaints about the same sperm donor to the police, or they may do so in the future.
The Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation is rolling out its educational campaign to maternity units, GP surgeries, and universities, in order to raise awareness of the serious risks of abuse and violence awaiting women when they use unregulated sperm donor websites and Facebook Groups.
Should you be affiliated with a maternity unit, a GP surgery, or a university, and wish to receive free copies of our poster (pictured below) to display within your organisation, please use the contact page.
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.
'Stay Safe in Cyberspace Guide.'
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.
A new guide is available from the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation, entitled, 'Get Wise...Know Your Sperm Donor Language.' This is a succinct guide on the language of Internet sperm 'donation.' It defines and explains the commonly used language associated with 'donation methods,' most of which are sexual and can easily cloud the boundaries between consensual and non-consensual sex.
The guide is intended for women opting to use the Internet for donor insemination, but it will also be beneficial for those working in midwifery, policy, academia, journalism, the police and the criminal justice system.
'Get Wise…Know Your Cyber Sperm Donor Language.'
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.
Founder of the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation. Striving to share knowledge and raise awareness about the dangers awaiting women when they go online to find an unregulated sperm donor.