One unforeseen consequence of the rise of the internet has been an explosion in the illicit trade of child sexual abuse images and videos.
Child pornography is sexual abuse material.
More than 29 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation are received by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children annually.
[That’s over 563,461 reports per week.]
Defining child sexual abuse material.
Child sexual abuse material (legally known as child pornography) refers to any content that depicts sexually explicit activities involving a child. Visual depictions include photographs, videos, digital or computer generated images indistinguishable from an actual minor. These images and videos that involve the documentation of an actual crime scene are then circulated for personal consumption. More recently, live-streaming sexual abuse has begun to surface. In these instances individuals pay to watch the live abuse of a child via a video streaming service. This type of abuse is incredibly difficult to detect, due to its real-time nature and the lack of digital evidence left behind following the crime.
Though child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is a global issue, the United States remains one of the largest producers and consumers of child abuse content in the world. It’s important to understand the true nature and pervasiveness of child sexual abuse material to convey the urgent need to address this crime.
Redefining "Child Pornography"
While “child pornography” remains the legal term for this material, the subject matter is one of the most violent, horrific forms of child abuse possible. For this reason, those working to combat this type of abuse have begun using the term “child sexual abuse material” (CSAM), which more accurately conveys the content and is explicitly tied to the source of the problem.
Who is being abused?
While there are studies that indicate risk factors that may increase the potential for exposure to sexual abuse, the ages and backgrounds of victims of sexual abuse know no bounds. Child sexual abuse images and videos found online involve both boys and girls from 0-18 years old. In their assessment of reports to their tipline, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection found that children under 12 years old were depicted in 78% of the images and videos assessed by their team, and 63% of those children were under 8 years of age. Among that same material, they found that 80% of the children were girls, while 19% were boys.
Multiple images that depict the same child become a record of abuse and can be shared many times over, far beyond the instance of abuse, resulting in further trauma into adulthood.
Images and videos analyzed by Cybertip.ca depict children under 12 years old
Who is the abuser?
Often times, CSAM victims are abused by someone they know — people these children should have been able to trust. These offenders have close access to the children they are abusing, using grooming tactics to normalize sexual contact and encourage secrecy.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) data from 2013 shows:
Content produced by a parent or guardian:
Content is produced by a parent or guardian
Content produced by a neighbor or family friend:
Content is produced by a neighbor or family friend
Content stemming from online enticement:
Content stemming from online enticement
How is content shared?
Those who seek to or are currently participating in the exploitation of children can connect on Internet networks and forums to sell, share, and trade material. These interactions are facilitated through several forms of internet technology, including websites, email, instant messaging/ICQ, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), newsgroups, bulletin boards, peer-to-peer networks, internet gaming sites, social networking sites, and anonymized networks.
The emergence of these online communities has also promoted communication between offenders, both normalizing their interest in children and desensitizing them to the physical and psychological damages inflicted on the children being exploited. These online communities often times provide a space to freely share interests, desires, and experiences abusing children, free of judgement and without fear of being caught.
Help prevent child sexual abuse.
Educate yourself on child abuse and the intersection with technology.
Stay active and engaged with your community to keep an eye out for signs of child abuse. Talk to your children about abuse and the unique risks on the internet.
Get to know the children in your community.
They won’t be able to ask for help once something goes wrong and will need you to have your eyes open.
Here are just some of the organizations working to prevent abuse and provide survivors with resources. Get to know those in your community as well.