Sexual Abuse Materials
Child Sexual Abuse Materials

Overview

United States federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (persons less than 18 years old).  Outside of the legal system, and per terminology outlined in the Luxembourg Guidelines of 2016, these files are referred to as Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), to most accurately reflect what is depicted – the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.  Not only do these images and videos victims’ exploitation and abuse, but when these files are shared across the internet, the children suffer perpetual re-victimization with each iteration and viewing of their abuse. In a recent survey led by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, 67% of CSAM survivors said the imagery impacts them differently from the hands-on abuse because the distribution never ends and the images are permanent.

It’s important to remember child sexual abuse material is much more than just images and video files.  While they are seen and transmitted on computers and through technology, they are depictions of actual crime scenes, specifically crimes against children.  The human element, children at risk, must always be considered when talking about this offense that is based in a high-tech world.

The disturbing reality is that the internet platforms we use every day to connect with each other and share information are now being used to disseminate and collect CSAM. Using platforms such as social media, online gaming, and email, CSAM can be found in virtually any realm.

Who are the Victims?

There is limited research on the victims of child sexual abuse material, although this is a growing field of interest in research to better understand who the child victims are and the offenders who memorialize the abuse.

Two recent studies were released in March 2018 on this topic. The first is the Production and Active Trading of Child Sexual Exploitation Images Depicting Identified Victims which is based on the data collected by NCMEC’s Child Victim Identification Program through 2014. The second is Towards a Global Indicator on Unidentified Victims in Child Sexual Exploitation Material which is based on the data in Interpol’s global system.

Below are key facts from recent research:

  • Female children appear in the overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse materials.1 
  • Prepubescent children are at the greatest risk to be depicted in adult-produced CSAM.2 
  • When boys are victimized, they are disproportionately more likely to be the subject of very explicit or egregious images/videos.
  • Boys depicted in CSAM are, on average, younger than female victims and are more likely than girls to have not yet reached puberty.3  
  • For those children who are victims of online enticement4 , 78% of the reports involved female children and 15% involved male children (in 8% of reports, child gender could not be determined). 

1 - Seto, M. C., Buckman, C., Dwyer, R. G., & Quayle, E. (2018, March 28). Production and Active Trading of Child Sexual Exploitation Images Depicting Identified Victims(Rep.). Retrieved April 1, 2018, http://www.missingkids.org/content/dam/pdfs/ncmec-analysis/Production%20and%20Active%20Trading%20of%20CSAM_FullReport_FINAL.pdf
2 - Ibid
3 - Ibid
4 - Online enticement is a broad category of online exploitation, including sextortion, in which a child is being groomed to take sexually explicit images and/or ultimately meet face-to-face with someone for sexual purposes, or to engage in a sexual conversation online or, in some instances, to sell/trade the child’s sexual images.

By the Numbers

In 2017, of the 27,000 cases reported to NCMEC, 91% were endangered runaways.
51% of endangered runaways reported to NCMEC were between 16-17 years old.
22% of all Endangered Runaway children who were intaked by NCMEC in 2016 had multiple missing incidents in the same year.

What NCMEC is Doing About it

Operating the CyberTipline

Due to the increasing online and offline occurrences of child sexual exploitation and abuse, in March 1998 NCMEC received authorization from Congress to operate the CyberTipline. Serving as a centralized reporting mechanism, information can be submitted by both the public and electronic service providers about suspected child sexual exploitation including:

  • online enticement of children for sexual acts
  • extra-familial child sexual molestation
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • child sex trafficking
  • unsolicited obscene materials sent to children
  • misleading domain names 
  • misleading words or digital images on the internet

After NCMEC’s review is completed, all information in a CyberTipline report is made available to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

For definitions and more information on these reporting categories and/or to make a CyberTipline Report, visit report.cybertip.org.

Electronic Service Provider (ESP) Reporting

U.S. federal law requires that U.S. based electronic service providers report instances of apparent child pornography they discover on their systems or services to NCMEC’s CyberTipline.  NCMEC works closely with the ESP industry to better streamline and enhance reporting to the CyberTipline. This allows for more robust reporting which allows for better law enforcement response in cases of suspected child sexual abuse and exploitation.

To date there are over 1,400 companies registered with NCMEC and in addition to making reports to NCMEC, these companies also receive notices from NCMEC about suspected CSAM that they may not be aware of on their servers.

Are you an ESP who would like to register with NCMEC? Click here.

Assisting in Victim Identification Efforts

The Child Victim Identification Program (CVIP) was launched in 2002 after NCMEC analysts repeatedly viewed sexually abusive images and videos of the same child victims in CyberTipline reports.  Concerned about these children, NCMEC staff began tracking which child victims had been previously identified by law enforcement and removed from the abusive situation. As a result of the Ashcroft v Free Speech decision in 2002, the burden of proof was on the prosecution to prove all files of child sexual abuse depicted real children. Since NCMEC already had information on which children had been identified, the Child Victim Identification Program was formed. 

Today, CVIP operates with a dual purpose that is central to NCMEC’s mission: provide information concerning previously identified child victims, and help law enforcement locate unidentified child victims featured in sexually abusive files to stop their abuse. CVIP serves as the U.S. clearinghouse on child sexual exploitation and abuse cases and victims, to both domestic and international law enforcement. CVIP assists law enforcement on a global level in linking files and cases in effort to rescue child victims from sexual abuse.

Empowering Survivors

More and more, survivors of child sexual abuse imagery speak to the long-lasting damage and impact of their images and videos being circulated on the internet. The lack of control of both the files’ existence and circulation leaves the survivors struggling in their recovery.

Using new technology and working with like-minded partners, NCMEC is working with the ESP industry and with children and their families to identify these images and have them tagged for removal from ESP servers. This empowers and allows law enforcement and child advocates to tell the survivors that something CAN be done to limit these files online and removed them when they are flagged.

NCMEC also provides information for survivors who want to take quick action if they are made aware of their images or videos online.  Learn how to contact the internet service providers to report files circulating online.

Supporting Victims & Families

NCMEC provides assistance and support to families impacted by child sexual exploitation. We offer crisis intervention to families as well as local referrals to appropriate professionals for longer-term support.  Families of exploited children often feel alone in their struggle and overwhelmed by the issues impacting their lives. NCMEC’s Team HOPE volunteer program connects families to others who have experienced the crises of a sexually exploited child. These trained volunteers offer peer support, coping skills and compassion. In addition, child victims may be eligible for restitution. NCMEC provides legal assistance and helps families navigate the legal system and provides referrals to experienced attorneys. 

Preventing Abuse Through Education

Because of the massive amount of information that comes through the CyberTipline, NCMEC is in a unique position to spot trends and evolving threats to children- especially online. This information allows NCMEC to create issue-specific educational and prevention materials for children, parents and law enforcement; programs like NetSmartz and KidSmartz.  

Learn more about all of our education programs here.

Success Stories

In December 2017, the CyberTipline® received a report from a registered electronic service provider regarding the transmission of apparent child pornography via their social networking service. As part of their report, the ESP provided incident information, including an email address, screen name, images of the apparent child pornography and IP addresses associated with the reported files. 

A NCMEC analyst assigned to this report viewed multiple images, which appeared to be unfamiliar, and a chat log suggesting the reported user was enticing the child victim to sexually molest her toddler-aged relative. After querying the CyberTipline with the information submitted by the ESP, it appeared the reported user was associated with multiple other reports and had possibly been aggressively enticing multiple children to produce child pornography. The email addresses provided by the ESP linked to a social media profile including a location and possible gang affiliation. Based on the uploaded content and chat log, NCMEC staff prioritized the report.

The same day, the reporting ESP sent an escalated report related to the reported user alleging he had been using several accounts to coerce multiple minors to produce child pornography images. On various occasions, the user appeared to have enticed child victims into sexually molesting younger relatives. The analyst added value to this report, connected additional reports to the reported individual, and reclassified the escalated report to the highest priority.  The report was made available to an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in the Mid-Atlantic states, which alerted a local police department. The ICAC continued to update NCMEC about the case and request additional information as needed. As the reported user is a citizen of another country, Homeland Security Investigations assisted in his arrest. Due to the diligent work of law enforcement, 15 victims, including a 2-year-old girl, have been rescued.

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In January 2018, the CyberTipline received a report from a member of the public alleging the reported individual was addicted to child pornography. It was also alleged the reported user was previously employed in a school and may continue to have access to children. The reporting person provided a name, address, telephone number and username for the reported user.

An analyst used the information provided in the report to find a potentially related social media profile associated with the telephone number and username provided by the reporting person. The profile contained the same name listed in the report and suggested the reported user had access to multiple children. Based on that information, the analyst escalated this report and made it available to law enforcement in a southern state. Per a joint investigation by law enforcement agencies in that state, the user was arrested.

The reported user is accused of possessing “material containing a representation of a minor, unknown female, approximate age between 8 and 10 ... engaged in sexual activity.” The reported user faces charges to include one count of Indecent Liberties with a Minor and three counts of 2nd Degree Exploitation of a Minor. The victim appears to be a child from the daycare where the user worked.