Online sexual exploitation most commonly includes grooming, live streaming, consuming child sexual abuse material, and coercing and blackmailing children for sexual purposes. As technology advances, new forms of this crime emerge. Never before has it been easier for perpetrators to make contact with children, share images of abuse, hide their identity and profits – and inspire each other to commit further crimes.
Behind every image, video or screen, there is a real child victim being sexually exploited. Like other forms of sexual abuse, online abuse can scar victims emotionally and physically for a lifetime. But unlike other forms of abuse, the child can potentially be re-victimized millions of times – every time an image is watched, sent or received.
Identifying and investigating offenders is difficult, as they often adapt technology, such as darknet portals or other anonymous channels, to enable their offending and avoid detection. Online sexual exploitation often occurs across multiple jurisdictions, with victims and offenders often in different countries. Some countries are yet to update legislation that criminalizes the viewing or possession of child sexual abuse material online.
- Online child sexual abuse material
Accessing, possessing, producing and/or distributing images and/or videos of child sexual abuse. This crime is often referred to as “child pornography”. There are billions of examples of this kind of material on the Internet today. According to Microsoft, out of 1.8 billion images uploaded every day, about 270,000 were of child sexual abuse.
“Every time I see someone looking at me, I wonder if they know, if they’ve seen the pictures.”
- Grooming of children for sexual purposes
Developing a relationship with a child to enable their sexual abuse and/or exploitation, either online or offline. The proliferation of social media, messaging and live streaming apps in recent years have seen a dramatic increase in reports of this crime.
- Live streaming sexual abuse of children
Using online video applications to view, and sometimes interact with the sexual abuse of children live. As live streaming services and video-based social media apps (some which allow anonymous communication) proliferate, so too do examples of this crime. Some countries, such as the Philippines have become hubs for this kind of abuse in recent years, where poverty is causing some parents to abuse their own children for profit.
- Sextortion: coercing and blackmailing children for sexual purposes
Producing and/or utilizing sexual images and/or videos depicting a child, for the purposes of sexual, financial or other personal gains. Offenders can be adults or peers of the victims – and sometimes the child sexual abuse material is self-produced through manipulation of the victim.
The ECPAT network works across all sectors and borders, internationally and regionally, to combat the sexual exploitation of children online.
- Collaborating with law enforcement agencies
ECPAT works with INTERPOL, EUROPOL and the police forces of multiple countries to better understand and confront the problem of online child sexual exploitation. In 2018, this resulted in groundbreaking research based on an INTERPOL database of sexual abuse images.
- Building partnerships
…with members, governments, religious leaders, the technology industry and United Nations agencies, to tackle this crime more effectively. For example, in recent years, ECPAT has worked closely with Facebook and other social media providers to help develop systems for detecting and reporting child sexual abuse material, we work with the UK government supported WeProtect campaign to help countries bolster laws and implement detection systems, and we work with religious leaders, including the Vatican to raise awareness and help them better understand the problem.
- Advocating for stronger legal frameworks
We advocate for better domestic legislation to ensure that countries have laws that are in line with internationally agreed conventions. In recent years, ECPAT’s country reports, as well as reports to the UN Human Rights Committee and the CRC Committee have been instrumental in helping governments identify gaps in the body of law so they can make appropriate changes. Compare legislation in different countries with the ECPAT global database.
- Taking advantage of technology
We promote the deployment of technical tools to find and remove images and videos of child sexual abuse online. This recently included advocating to ensure that proposed EU online privacy rules did not make it impossible for private businesses to utilize specialist software to detect child sexual abuse material.
“The victims can only get so young. We have seen the abuse of babies and very, very young toddlers depicted.”
– Police interviewed, 2018.
- Learning more about the crime
We conduct research to collect information on this crime; its victims, offenders and methods.
In many countries around the world, our members work to help train law enforcement on victim identification and care.
- We build partnerships
…with members, governments, law enforcement, the technology industry and United Nations agencies, to tackle this crime more effectively.