Boys, very young children at greater risk of severe online sexual abuse – INTERPOL

A study of photos and videos in INTERPOL’s International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database has found that the younger the victim, the more severe the abuse was likely to be.

A report published on March 6, 2018 by INTERPOL and ECPAT International also highlights the urgent need for better understanding of online exploitation and for more resources to be allocated towards victim identification.

Information on more than one million media files of child sexual exploitation and abuse material from around the world and stored in the ICSE database was analyzed as part of the research.

A detailed examination was conducted of a random selection of 800 series of videos and images. Of these, 84 per cent contained explicit sexual activity, assault, gross assault, sadism or other ‘problematic paraphilias’ such as bestiality, humiliation or necrophilia.

Infant victims

More than 60 per cent of unidentified victims were prepubescent, including infants and toddlers. They were also more likely to be subjected to abuse and exploitation featuring an additional paraphilic theme.

A link between gender and level of abuse was also identified, with severe abuse images more likely to feature boys.

“Unfortunately, most people do not realize that when we talk about child abuse, we are also speaking about very young children, babies who are just months old, being the victims of extreme sexual assault,” said Bjorn Sellstrom, INTERPOL’s Crimes Against Children (CAC) unit coordinator.

“Victim identification is at the core of INTERPOL’s work in connecting global investigations into online child sexual abuse.

“This report underlines the need for more countries to connect to the ICSE database and become part of this important network of investigators dedicated to rescuing child abuse victims.

“This study will help raise awareness of the challenges facing law enforcement and encourage stronger support in developing victim identification efforts globally,” said Sellstrom.

Identifying offenders

Experts agree that the vast majority of online child sexual abuse material is made by those in the victim’s circle of trust. Identifying the victim is a priority because as well as providing an opportunity to remove the child from harm, it is often the first step in identifying the offender.

“While millions of videos and images of children being sexually abused or exploited are uploaded every day, the vast majority of both victims and offenders remain unidentified,” said Dorothy Rozga, Executive Director of ECPAT International.

“This study addresses a pressing need to address the lack of research and indicators on unidentified children depicted in this kind of material, as well as the quality of the response by law enforcement around the world.

“What is needed now is coordinated global action. Almost all countries in the world have committed to ending the sexual exploitation of children. But you can’t end what you can’t measure,” said Rozga.

To date more than 12,000 victims of child sexual abuse around the world have been identified via the ICSE database.

Other messages and highlights from the study:

  • Law enforcement officials face multiple challenges in identifying victims and offenders, even with powerful tools such as the ICSE database
  • A significant proportion (61 per cent) of analyzed series contained images and videos which were both abusive and exploitative. In the vast majority of the analyzed series from child modelling sites, both abusive and exploitative material was visible
  • Accurate determination of core characteristics of victims such as their age is a challenge, particularly across ethnic groups
  • Even though most offenders were men, women were also involved in the abuse and exploitation of children where it is clear their role is complicated
  • The phenomenon of ‘youth-produced sexual imagery’ appears to present a challenge to international law enforcement. This is both in terms of the detection and integration of these type of images into databases, and the identification and classification of its victims.

Towards a Global Indicator on Unidentified Victims in Child Sexual Exploitation Material represents unique cooperation between INTERPOL and ECPAT International. It is a key component of a larger programme called the ICSE Database Connectivity and Awareness Raising Enhancements (I-CARE) Project, co-funded by the Internal Security Fund of the European Union and carried out between 2016 and 2018.


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