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Decoding the Acronyms Used in Fighting Child Sexual Abuse

March 17, 2023

4 Minute Read

There’s no question that talking about child abuse and exploitation is extremely difficult. But bringing this issue into the light and talking about the facts is a powerful way to advocate for the children we serve.

With so many evolving terms and acronyms, it may feel challenging to keep them all straight. We’ve put together this helpful glossary so you can more easily follow what Thorn and other experts in this space are talking about, helping us all become stronger  advocates for children.

Here’s what you need to know:

CSE: Child Sexual Exploitation

CSE is a broad term that encompasses all forms of child sexual exploitation. Sometimes CSEA (Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse) is also used. This may include many of the other terms on this list, such as child sexual abuse material, child sex trafficking, and others like sextortion. This is one of the broadest ways to talk about the issue as a whole, rather than the individual and nuanced pieces. 

CSA: Child Sexual Abuse

This is another broad term that may be used in conjunction with or interchangeably with CSE. RAINN’s definition of CSA does an excellent job of describing CSA. Content warning: this description is difficult to read.

“Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are committing a crime that can have lasting effects on the victim for years. Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child.”

As RAINN notes, this can include sharing obscene materials or messages with a child, or other sexual misconduct beyond hands-on abuse.

CSAM: Child Sexual Abuse Material

Child sexual abuse material (legally known as child pornography in the U.S.) refers to any content that depicts sexually explicit activities involving a child. Visual depictions include photographs, videos, live streaming, and digital or computer generated images, including AI-generated content, indistinguishable from an actual minor.

CSAM better describes the reality of this crime, rather than the legal term of child pornography. Pornography implies consent, which a child can never give. It’s important we use terminology that reflects the impact of this crime on its victims.

SG-CSAM: Self-Generated Child Sexual Abuse Material

What we colloquially call “nudes” or “naked selfies” are more formally known as self-generated child sexual abuse material (SG-CSAM) when they have been taken by the minor in the material. Thorn’s research dives into youth attitudes about SG-CSAM in more detail.

NCII: Non-consensual Intimate Imagery

Sexual explicit images and videos that are captured, published or circulated without the consent of one or more persons in the frame. This is often done in an effort to shame, humiliate, or retaliate against the victim since the relationship ended. This is known as non-consensual intimate imagery, but is also sometimes called “revenge porn.”

CSAI: Child Sexual Abuse Imagery

CSAI may at times be used interchangeably with CSAM, but as the term implies it refers specifically to images (not all CSAM contains imagery, it could be an audio file, for example). This may include still images, video, or live stream content.

CSEI: Child Sexual Exploitation Imagery

CSEI is another term you may see used instead of child pornography. Along with CSAM and CSAI, it more appropriately describes the nature of this content, but is more widely encompassing than those terms.

Note: Thorn uses the term CSAM to describe any sexually explicit content that depicts a child. This is the most accurate term that encompasses both the trauma these crimes inflict as well as the variety of files and formats of the content itself.

CST: Child Sex Trafficking

Child sex trafficking (CST) as defined by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) “is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, or advertising of a minor child for the purpose of a commercial sex act, which involves the exchange of anything of value – such as money, drugs or a place to stay – for sexual activity.”

In other words, CST is the exchange of something of value for sexual activity. It’s important to note that while the term “trafficking” implies movement, a child does not have to be moved for CST to take place.

NCMEC: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

NCMEC (pronounced “nick-mick”) is the national clearinghouse for all reports of child sexual exploitation in the United States. NCMEC operates the Cybertipline reporting system, where any reports of child sexual abuse in the U.S. should be made.

While NCMEC’s work is not limited to sexual exploitation, they are a critical component of the ecosystem working to prevent these crimes, as well as to identify and recover victims.

For more information on what to do if you come across evidence of child sexual exploitation, read this blog.

Bringing the conversation into the light

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most commonly used acronyms you’re likely to come across when learning about this issue.

While it can be difficult, being willing to learn the facts about this issue and talk about them helps to build a world where no child victim of sexual exploitation is forgotten, where the platforms and organizations working to defend children from these crimes have the public support they need to accelerate their work, and where every child can simply be a kid.

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