Technology For Good

Child Sexual Exploitation: Researching the Role of Tech

By June 19, 2015 No Comments

Thorn conducts multiple research projects to better understand how technology is being used to abuse and exploit children. We use the knowledge gained in these research initiatives to develop high impact programs, which protect children and combat child sexual exploitation. 


The first research area that Thorn is exploring is sextortion, which occurs when one person threatens to expose sexual images of another in order to get them to do something. We partnered with the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) to learn more about this growing crime in order to not only intervene more effectively, but to also prevent it from taking place. We analyzed research archives and case studies to learn more about offender behavior and case dynamics. To gain insight directly from victims themselves, we are launching an anonymous online survey for persons age 18 or older who have been targets of sextortion. Our research will provide useful, accessible information about the dynamics of sextortion, and contribute to the development of technological interventions to disrupt, discourage and prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

Technology Use by Controllers

Technology is a dynamic field. As new trends emerge, it is important to continually revise and redeploy surveys to learn how technology can be used to assist individuals in trafficking situations or prevent them from being trafficked in the first place. Thorn, in partnership with Texas Christian University (TCU), is conducting research to better understand the ways in which controllers leverage various technology platforms to recruit, groom and sell domestic minor sex trafficking victims. A similar survey was deployed in 2012 by Thorn and TCU, where over 100 domestic minor sex trafficking victims were surveyed about the role that technology played in their exploitation. Findings from this survey will help Thorn, and other organizations working in this space, develop new programs and tools for survivor outreach, and inform technology companies about how their platforms are being used for these purposes and spur them to action. If you or your organization is interested in participating, please email [email protected].

Victim Identification

Thorn has partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and a team of expert researchers led by Dr. Seto to analyze over a decade of victim and offender data. The purpose of this research is to better understand the characteristics of children who are victimized in child pornography and their relationship with those who have sexually abused them. The data can be leveraged to gain insight into trends in child pornography offending, including differences in familial and non-familial cases such as age and gender of victims, explicitness of sexual content, use of violence and involvement in online distribution. Connections between child pornography content and contact sexual offending, and geographic or temporal patterns, can be gleaned from the data as well. The primary objective of this research is to develop knowledge that can be used to assist law enforcement in identifying child pornography victims and hopefully intervening in ongoing sexual exploitation and abuse.

Why Invest in Research?

Thorn conducts research to drive more progressive and impactful work combatting child sexual exploitation. By investing in research and uncovering trends as they occur, we are able to stay ahead of the individuals using technology to exploit children, and develop stronger and more targeted strategies and interventions to prevent child sexual exploitation.

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