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06 March 2018

Study finds boys and very young children at greater risk of severe online sexual abuse

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

A report published today 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 ground-breaking 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 Mr 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 Ms Rozga.

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

Other messages 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.

Note on terminology

At INTERPOL, we support the use of appropriate terminology to avoid trivializing the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Terms such as ‘kiddy porn’ and ‘child porn’ are used by criminals and should not be legitimate language used by law enforcement, judiciary, the public or media.

Appropriate terms are ‘child sexual abuse’, ‘sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism’ and ‘exploitation of children in/for prostitution’.

Terms to be used with caution, or avoided completely, include ‘child pornography’, ‘child sex tourism’ and ‘child prostitution’.

The Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Luxembourg Guidelines, offer guidance on terms in relation to the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

What is the ICSE database?


INTERPOL's International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database

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