Our work does not exist in isolation — we rely on strong relationships with a broad ecosystem of partners, all of whom share our dedication to defending children from sexual abuse. Our initiative to eliminate child sexual abuse material (child pornography) from the internet is only possible in collaboration with law enforcement, the tech industry, NGOs, donors, and most integrally, the survivor community. This month, our Scale of the Problem blog series will introduce you to the individuals who are working with Thorn to make this goal a reality.
Meet two of our Law Enforcement Partners
Thorn works closely with law enforcement, developing the tools needed to identify victims faster so that agents can save critical time in investigations. We sat down with two leading child protection investigators, Greg (based out of Boston) and Paul (based out of Queensland), asking them to share their perspectives on the ways technology has changed the field and our work together.
Q: How long have you been working to fight child sexual exploitation crimes? What did your path to this area of work look like?
Greg: I’ve been working in the fight against child sexual exploitation crimes for about 15 years, after spending time in the US Army, the private sector, and, oddly, the US Postal Service. When I started, I had two young children at home — it was easy to imagine the horror that the children in the images and videos were facing.
Paul: I’ve been working against online child abuse for 24 years (since 1995). I was a police officer in the UK and it was pretty much unheard of for someone to get a specialist position with that length of service. I think I got lucky because they were looking for someone with computer skills and they must have believed me when I told them that I did.
Q: How have new technologies changed the way abusers operate? How have new technologies changed the way you work?
Greg: Technology plays a major role in this issue. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen new technologies give abusers more access to child sexual abuse material, the ability to network with like-minded individuals, and the ability to remain nearly anonymous. Over the last 5 years, I’ve seen more and more offenders under 30 years old — these perpetrators were raised in an environment where technology is second nature. As law enforcement, we need to immerse ourselves in technology while using our core skills as investigators to track down the victims and abusers.
Paul: For me, the biggest impact has been the advent of digital camera technology, especially camera phones. Coupled with encryption and anonymization technology, the proliferation of digital image capture devices has led to an explosion in the availability of CSAM — and made investigators’ jobs harder.
Thankfully, technology is helping investigators in positive ways, too. It’s providing us with better and different ways to extract beneficial information from seized media and associated intelligence, and giving us opportunities to link intelligence and detect offenses.
Q: How did you meet Thorn? What led you to partner with us?
Greg: Finding others who seek answers and solutions is an amazing thing. My partner and I met Thorn through a mutual partner in this fight at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). When we met the folks at Thorn, we knew that we found a true ally in this fight.
Paul: I met Thorn through the INTERPOL Specialists Group on Crimes against Children a few years ago, and I was already aware of some of their work. I was very impressed with their tools, their willingness to collaborate and their commitment to make the world a safer place. It’s hard to imagine not having access to Thorn now and gratifying to look back on the successful investigations that Thorn has played a role in.
Q: What is the single biggest barrier to eliminating CSAM from the internet?
Greg: Demand. The volume of material and those who seek it is staggering.
Paul: The biggest barrier to eliminating CSAM is the sheer scale of the problem. The number of individuals who are prepared to produce child sexual abuse material and the even greater number of individuals waiting to consume it is overwhelming. I’m not sure that we understand the true size of the issue and, thus, the level of response that is required.
Q: What is the one thing you would want the public to know about this issue?
Greg: The public needs to know that this is happening and we ALL need to fight against it. It’s in my neighborhood, it’s in your neighborhood. Offenders span all socioeconomic classes, all genders, all races, all religions — and they will adapt, until we shine so much light on them that they are blinded and the children they abuse are free and safe.
Paul: A very mature conversation needs to be had with the public at large to educate them about the sheer scale of the problem, the level of damage it causes and the emotional, physical and financial cost of repairing that damage. It’s pervasive and damaging and we need to make the protection of children a priority.
We’re thankful for partners, like Greg and Paul, who are working beside us on behalf of vulnerable kids. Next up, hear about how technology has evolved to not only democratize the crime, but also play a key role in combating it.
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Updated post — originally posted on April 5, 2019.