by Jonathan Bhaggan
Members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service were identified to be a part of WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram group chats that share illicit pornography, including videos of women being raped, child pornography and intimate photos and videos shared without consent.
Doctors, engineers and other professionals were also identified to be in the groups along with the TTPS.
I was informed of this by a female attorney at law who is also the founder of a civil society group and leader of a team of young women working on the revenge porn issue.
This young lawyer and her team infiltrated many of these groups.
This lawyer also claimed she screenshotted members of the WhatsApp group and found that members of the TTPS were a part of it. I asked her how she identified them and she said as follows: “Some users had photos of themselves up. Two were identifiable as police officers based on their uniforms. They held guns in the photos.”
The attorney also sent me screenshots of the TTPS officers in their uniforms, including one officer posing with an unloaded Galil assault rifle.
I asked this attorney how many people she estimated were in these various groups and she said as follows: “I honestly believe it’s thousands of people altogether, on all the platforms combined.”
I further queried as to if there were any high-ranking public officials in the group chats.
She responded: “Concerning high-ranking people being on it, I honestly can’t say, because they’re all anonymous. The only way you might recognise a person on the group is if they put up a profile photo or if you have their contact and phone number saved (for Telegram). In speaking with several victims, I have compiled a list of men who were in the groups that we identified and verified were trading private and intimate photos and videos of women, along with their full contact information, including where you can find them (in real life) and their social media account information. They have professionals, like police officers, medical doctors and so on. A lot of engineers are involved.”
This attorney sent me screenshots of activities in the group chat with the nudity blocked out so as not to run the risk of further sharing child pornography.
Several screenshots showed a group chat sharing a picture of a teenager taken from her Instagram profile so that other members of the group could cyberstalk the teenager and solicit indecent pictures.
One screenshot of a group chat called “Old and New Content” showed members sharing pictures of high school girls in school uniforms partially undressed.
TTPS Cyber Crimes unit yet to act
This female attorney was herself the victim of intimate content being shared without consent. Some of this content was produced before she turned 18, making it child pornography if shared. The attorney is also a survivor of a sexual assault and had initially made reports to the TTPS in 2021 about all these issues.
In 2022, she sought my advice regarding the failure of the TTPS Cybercrime Unit to act against this WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram group chat that shares child pornography and videos taken while Trinidadian women were gang raped.
In 2021, the female attorney made a police report and handed over evidence on a flash drive that was supposed to be used to assist the Cyber Crimes Unit. The flash drive contained detailed evidence necessary for the case.
She reported, “I constantly contacted the Cyber Crimes unit to no avail until one day, I was able to talk to somebody, a woman police officer, who said the investigation was in progress, she told me to go back to the (redacted) police station to talk to a certain inspector for an update on my report.
“I stopped at the station and met the inspector in person and he told me that they lost my flash drive. He also made statements to dissuade me from pursuing further action on my matter.”
Thankfully, this attorney made a subsequent report to a female officer at the (redacted) police station and the female officer retrieved the flash drive that was “lost” and returned it. The attorney made a subsequent report to the Sexual Offences Unit at the station which will be forwarded to the Cyber Crimes Unit.
Need for new legislation
This shocking situation highlights not only issues with the TTPS, but also the failure of the Government to implement proper legislation. To date, there has been no information commissioner appointed under the Data Protection Act.
There is a need for the implementation of sexual harassment criminal laws in Trinidad and Tobago for victims of street harassment and online/tech sexual abuse.
The Cyber Crimes Bill 2017 needs to be debated and passed to allow the TTPS to crack down on cybercriminals. A Cyber Crimes Bill is fundamental given rapid developments in technology worldwide.
Parliament needs to acknowledge that women across T&T are being affected by sexual harassment in forms that our legislation does not account for.