The tech industry - with its competence and online reach – can provide powerful tools in combating child sexual abuse online. How can we build partnerships and improve the technology needed to protect children?
Information and communication technology is progressing at a dramatic speed, enabling child abuse in new forms and scale. Research shows that abuse taking place online - where the child hasn’t met the perpetrator offline - can be as traumatic as abuse that occurs offline. The fact that the abuse is documented and can be spread online has very negative effects on the mental well-being of children. Children who are victims of sexual abuse online are almost never heard from when the rest of us talk about the right to privacy and integrity online.
Technological developments also carry opportunities for delivering solutions. New technologies are proving to be increasingly useful for ensuring children’s protection. One example is the company NetClean which developed a software which detects child sexual abuse material and is used by companies, government agencies and Internet Service Providers in over 110 countries. Its sister company Griffeye develops software which police authorities use to analyze vast amounts of data.
The police face many challenges in their work. The number of cases is overwhelming: the Swedish police reported that in 2016 around 15 000 Swedish IP addresses were used to download child sexual abuse material. This number is low considering that it only reflects those users who are not knowledgeable about encryption and anonymization techniques, including the dark web. The largest cases can at times be as large as 100 Terabytes of material to sift through, with 10 million images showing child sexual abuse content. The content is very disturbing to go through. A 2018 study of Interpol’s database of child sexual abuse material found that 84% of the included material contained explicit sexual activity, assault, sadism, bestiality, humiliation or necrophilia. More than 60% of the unidentified victims were prepubescent, including infants and toddlers. When victims were younger, the abuse was more likely to be extreme.
The police need help in identifying victims as well as those who share child sexual abuse material online. Not only is there a correlation between viewing child sexual abuse material and sexually abusing children, but the viewing itself is a crime since the dissemination of the images increase the trauma of the children.
Childhood is funding several online-related projects, including a board game with AR aspects to teach young children resilience online, an online therapy program with Karolinska Institute to treat people who need help in ceasing to consume child sexual abuse material, an online chat services for at-risk girls, and Trast, a software which aims to safeguard communication with children online while preserving everyone’s right to online integrity.
*The term child sexual abuse material is used instead of child pornography. The latter term is still commonly used in legislation and international conventions, but it is not used anymore by child rights organizations since the word pornography is associated with depictions of sexual activity between consenting adults. For this reason, the term ‘child pornography’ does not reflect the abusive and exploitative aspects of child sexual abuse material which can depict children of all ages and can range from children posing to sadistic torture.