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The Circulation of Sexual Images Taken by Children Themselves on the Rise Amongst Offenders

European End Child Sexual Abuse Day 2020
By ECPAT International
November 18th, 2020

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Today is European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, and ECPAT International take the opportunity to highlight the increase seen in the online circulation of sexually explicit images and videos taken by children themselves. Because while most people’s lives are put on hold due to COVID-19, criminals are finding ways to take advantage of the situation, including those who seek to sexually exploit children.

In June this year, Europol reported significant increases in activity relating to child sexual abuse material both on the surface web and dark web during the lockdown period. They assumed that the number of images taken voluntarily by children further increased due to limited physical contact with friends. Images and videos may be shared beyond those trusted with receiving them, first amongst peers, and they may find their way into the hands of online child sex offenders who continue to share them widely. In some cases, offenders may coerce and extort children to create and share more images and videos of themselves, their siblings and friends.

Interpol noted a surge in sexual content created and shared initially by children themselves.

A recent Interpol report similarly indicated increased sharing of child sexual exploitation materials in some countries during COVID-19 movement restrictions, especially via messaging apps. Other countries did not see changes in this already common practice. The report also noted a surge in sexual content created and shared initially by children themselves.

Offenders are discussing opportunities on dark web forums

On dark web forums specifically dedicated to child sexual exploitation, Europol has seen numerous discussions about the opportunities that COVID-19 facilitated to more easily access and exploit children.

Trigger Warning: Below quotes may be triggering and/or perceived as offensive.

Topic: thank you covid19

Is nobody seeing the bright side of this pandemic?? schools are closed so kids are at home bored….. that means way more livestreams and its very damn clear moderators arent working right now since ive seen 3 hour streams go unbanned over the last few days where girls do whatever they [expletive] they want.

What a time to be alive

Topic: Crisis affects

As we all know, the majority of the world is under quarantine at the moment due to this rampant disease, Covid-19. How is this situation currently affecting you and this wonderful hobby? For me I’ve been given more time to allocate to other things, in this case this hobby. Unfortunately though I’m not the only one who gained more free-time and don’t get much privacy, thus I cannot pleasure myself to this godly content, except late at night.

Why do Children Share Sexual Content?

To raise awareness of the risks that can arise from children self-producing sexual images and videos, it is crucial to try to understand why children engage in this behaviour. When adults think of children taking sexually explicit pictures, they tend to focus squarely on the negative impacts but not fully grasp the context within which it is occurring. But it is not that simple. In fact, images taken voluntarily by children that are not shared beyond trusted partners or friends may not have negative consequences. In a study from 2015, some 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.

Josie, 19

It’s a self-confidence thing because I’m more comfortable with my body now and I’m doing it for me, as opposed to doing it for someone else now. I want to show people that I’m confident with my body.

I know that once you’ve posted an image online basically you don’t really have ownership over it anymore.

Before, because I hadn’t done it, I thought it was just the most terrible thing ever. But now that I’ve done it, it’s not as bad as people think. Like, if it’s to… someone you trust, it’s not that bad.

Not all self-produced material is created voluntarily. Children also face grooming, threats, extortion and coercion online. Self-produced images that are shared without consent are a violation of the child’s rights and in many legal jurisdictions, also a serious crime.

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, experience lasting trauma. It is very difficult to remove material from the internet once it is out there. This means the child might never get closure.

Hannah, 16

…the fact that you get compliments back, it kind of builds up your confidence a bit more – it makes you feel a bit nicer.

I don’t even put my head in it… just in case they did ever get shown to someone.

So, What Can You Do as an Adult?

You can help talk to children about sexual exploitation and risks online, here are 7 tips on how to do it!

  1. Talk to the child on his or her own terms and try to understand their context. Listen, try not to interrupt.
  2. It is important to understand that young people might view sharing sexualised content very differently than you do. Try to understand why this may be, discuss and clarify the possible risks inherent
    in this behaviour.
  3. Do not threaten to take their phone or prohibit them from being online. This tends to have the effect of discouraging children from talking about concerns or worries as they fear this connection to their friends and peers will be removed.
  4. Remember that sexual exploitation of children affects girls, boys and non-binary young people.
  5. Reinforce that exploitation is never a child’s fault and that the blame is with the offender; they should never feel worried to come to you for help.
  6. Remind them they can always close the app or website at any time, and tell a trusted adult if something happens.
  7. Report incidents to the online platform, and to the police or to hotlines or helplines.

Find out how to report
Learn more about COVID-19 and child sexual exploitation
European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse

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