A brother and sister from Wales have been arrested for sexual abuse of children.
Matthew David Thatcher, 26, and his half-sister, Emily Thomson, 18, have a romantic relationship, according to Thomson's attorney, reports the Mirror. Thomson claims to be "blinded with her infatuation" of Thatcher, says she is in love with him and "did not view him as a relative," the lawyer said.
The couple was among a trio who confessed to 36 counts relating to the sexual abuse of three children under 16.
On Aug. 17, Cardiff Crown Court heard testimony that Thatcher and Thomson took photographs of themselves sexually assaulting the children and sent graphic messages about their abuse and discussed their planned abuse, reports Wales Online.
"The images and messages showed a careless disregard for the welfare of the children," said Judge Eleri Rees.
The third member of the alleged trio, Mandy Wright, 28, was jailed for her part in the crimes, including possessing images of child sex abuse.
Testimony revealed that South Wales Police officers discovered hundreds of images of sexual abuse of children taken by the trio.
Rees said that Thatcher, in particular, "descended into the darkest of places. He discovered that he was capable of doing the most dreadful things. He was caught up in something that he found very difficult to get out of. It was a dreadful thing that was taking place."
A medical examination of one of the young victims showed signs of "chronic sexual abuse," according to the court.
The pattern of abuse was discovered after Thatcher was caught trying to meet a girl who claimed to be 14 he came into contact with on Facebook. When the meeting took place, the girl reported Thatcher to the police.
Judge Rees sentenced Thatcher to 26 years, Thomson to 12 years, and Wright to seven years.
In total, Thatcher was charged with 15 offenses, including rape and sexual assault of a child. Thomson was charged with 16 offenses, including sexual assault and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. Wright was charged with five offenses which were not specified.
"Today, Matthew Thatcher, Emily Thomson, and Mandy Wright have been given long and deserved sentences for what are abhorrent crimes which have had a devastating impact upon their victims," announced DCI Karen Thomas of the South Wales Police.
"Absorbing the detail and the nature of the abuse committed by these individuals has been harrowing for even the most experienced professionals involved in the investigation," she added. "I would like to take this opportunity to publicly commend the bravery of the victims in this case -- they have experienced things which nobody should have to endure."
"The prevalence of child sexual abuse is difficult to determine because it is often not reported; experts agree that the incidence is far greater than what is reported to authorities," according to the National Center for Victims of Crime about sexual abuse in the United States.
A 2003 National Institute of Justice report, cited by the organization, indicates that 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well.
The same report says that children who are sexually abused for a prolonged period develop low self-esteem and an abnormal view of sex, and can ultimately become suicidal.
Children who live in "homes marked by parental discord, divorce, or domestic violence, have a higher risk of being sexually abused," the report adds.