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.

ECPAT - what is online child sexual exploitation

  • 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.

“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. 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.


ECPAT - online child sexual exploitationThe 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.


    • Building partnerships
      …with members, governments, religious leaders, the technology industry and United Nations agencies, to tackle this crime more effectively.


  • 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.
  • Artificial Intelligence
    We promote the deployment of technical tools to find and remove images and videos of child sexual abuse online.

“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.
  • Training
    In many countries around the world, our members work to help train law enforcement on victim identification and care.


ECPAT - resources

ECPAT and INTERPOL: Boys and very young children at greater risk of most severe online sexual exploitation. 

Trends in online child sexual exploitation: Interviews with EUROPOL and INTERPOL police officers.

ECPAT, INTERPOL and Unicef Innocenti project: Disrupting Harm: Evidence to understand online child sexual exploitation and abuse