Blog: Behind CSAM, Real Children are Being Abused

Behind the pixels of CSAM are real children being sexually abused and exploited. When these images and videos are distributed online, the children are re-victimised each time the material is viewed.

Sexual offences against children of which there is recorded footage are particularly traumatic for the child. For the victims of CSAM, the mere awareness that there is a video recording or photograph of their sexual abuse, coupled with the fear of its possible spread and eternal circulation online is very traumatic and can have a life-long devastating impact. Each time the CSAM is viewed again, the child is re-victimised.

In a Canadian Centre for Child Protection survey, nearly 70% of CSAM survivors said that the distribution of their images impacts them differently than the hands-on abuse they suffered as the distribution never ends and the images are permanent.

A recent case in the UK, in which a man was found guilty after being caught with indecent images and videos of children as young as five, demonstrated the significance of tackling the issue on the demand side of the problem, in order to fully protect children from the severe harm of being victims of CSAM offences. The trial judge recognised the influential role played by those who view CSAM in creating demand for the creation of this material: “These are real children being abused and if there was not a market for this type of material in people like you, they would not be abused”.

Without the demand from the users of CSAM, many children would not be subjected to sexual abuse nor the particular trauma of having their sexual abuse documented and shared online. 

Protect Children takes a multi-pronged approach in the prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Through our Online Road Safety project, we educate children on digital safety skills to ensure that they are equipped with adequate skills to stay safe online. Protect Children is part of the Project Arachnid alliance, through which we have analysed nearly 600,000 images and videos of child sexual abuse, reducing the availability of CSAM globally and helping to break the cycle of abuse of survivors.

We also find it crucial to adopt an offender-based prevention approach, through innovative intervention strategies for the individuals who view, download and distribute CSAM. We have conducted a survey in the Dark Web to learn more about the emotions, thoughts and behaviours of CSAM users in order to create the anonymous rehabilitative ReDirection Self-Help Program to guide CSAM users to behavioural change, and ultimately to prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse. Learn more about the survey results in our press release. The ReDirection Self-Help Program will be available soon in English and Spanish on the Helsinki University Hospital Mental Hub and on the Dark Web.

Read more about our ReDirection project here.

Tegan Insoll, LL.M.

Project Researcher, Protect Children

tegan.insoll(a)protectchildren.fi