Recently, ECPAT Sweden’s reporting hotline conducted research into the types of sexual abuse images that it receives that are taken by children themselves. They analysed 300 images that were received over a period of one month. The images include both girls and boys – of different ages. The team also spoke to children about how they feel about the phenomena.
Below are some observations from the study and some advice as to what you can do to keep your children safe.
- The number of reported cases is increasing.
In recent years, ECPAT Sweden’s hotline has received ever-increasing numbers of reports about sexually explicit images and videos produced by children themselves.
- Images and videos are finding their way to sites where child sex offenders seek material.
Although not a new phenomenon, this is a worrying trend and researchers are seeing it more and more.
- Most of the images are of pubescent girls
The most common picture includes an undressed teenage girl standing in front of a mirror, in her own room or in the bathroom, with a mobile phone in her hand. The sample also contained close-ups of genitals and breasts. Most girls are pubescent, but about one-in-five features pre-pubescent girls.
- We have to talk about boys
There were three cases of boys nude in photos, but 20 videos of boys performing a sexual act.
“When it comes to extortion, in more unusual cases, girls can also push a boy to send pictures by saying ‘you’re not a man’ or ‘you’re not masculine if you do not send this now that we started this intimate moment´ (…) Or if you’re offered sex you should always say yes whether you want or not. There is not much talk about it in the media /…/ there’s not the same focus on boys.”
Boy, high school year 1
- Children take these sexually explicit images for multiple complex reasons
When adults think of children taking sexually explicit pictures the reaction is often instinctively negative. But it is not that simple. Images taken voluntarily that are not shared further don’t have to have negative consequences. Many children say the opposite; that self-produced images provide advantages in their relationships and/or increased self-esteem. And today, this is a normal phenomenon for many children. The children that ECPAT Sweden talked to said they first encountered sexually explicit images on Snapchat in middle school.
“Girls can send in a relationship. Not as many girls sends randomly. It’s guys who go straight to the point, take a picture, then bam.”
Girl, high school.
“We have to deal with so much more crap, be called whore, slut. But if a guy sends (a picture) it’s cool. If a guy gets (a picture) on a girl, then it’s like: oh my god, I have to show all my friends”.
Girl, high school.
- Children face threats online
Not all self-produced material is created voluntarily. Children also face grooming, threats, extortion and coercion online. While perpetrators might groom children online by investing a lot of time into building a relationship with the child; some are not so subtle – and may resort directly to threats. In some cases, the offender may threaten to hurt a pet, a sibling, a parent or a friend. If they already have access to sensitive images of the child, this may be used to extort even more material.
- There’s no typical offender – there are no safe zones
Perpetrators usually contact the child through social media or messaging apps, but also through e-mail, dating sites or games with a chat function. A child can be threatened by someone they know, or by someone they met online.
- The harmful consequences can last a lifetime
Self-produced images that are shared without consent are a violation of the child’s rights. Research has shown that children worry a lot even if the images are never shared with others, and if they are, the trauma can last a lifetime.Those who share images or videos of someone else without their consent can be guilty of a crime. It is very difficult to remove shared material are from the internet. This means the child might never get closure.
- Talk to the child on his or her own terms. Do not interrupt.
You have to understand that sharing nude pictures is an everyday thing for some children, try to understand why this may be, as well as sharing the possible risks inherent in this behaviour.
“Don’t make a big deal of it! Take it easy and say that it wasn’t their fault. Not make it a huge thing involving a lot of people. Then you get stressed and have a lot of guilt. Like, for what you did”.
Girl, junior high.
- Do not threaten to take their phone or prohibit them from being online.
Instead; talk about online risks and how they can protect themselves.
- Take away the shame.
If images are shared online, do not judge. Remain supportive and be calm. It is never the child’s fault.
“I think that mom and dad, that they are the ones who decide how much we can tell them, because they put up a fence /…/ Say that a parent finds out that a friend has shared [a nude image] and the response is “how did she dare!?” Then you know that that’s how parents feel about these things. So even when it comes to other people, they should be understanding. But when I notice that my parents don’t like that this is happening to a friend, they wouldn’t understand if it happened to me.”
Girl, high school
Most websites have features where you can report inappropriate and/or illegal content. If a crime is committed, always report it to the police.
”I think that they don’t get this thing with nudes, they didn’t use snapchat and it isn’t really the same thing… I think we’ll have a better understanding when we become parents. They don’t really understand social stigma.”
Girl, high school.
* Quotes are translated from Swedish, original versions to be found in ECPAT Sweden’s report.