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Child Sex Trafficking and Child Pornography Aided by Internet Anonymity

By February 24, 2014 No Comments

The Internet is a neutral technology, and can be used for good or for ill. Sadly, the simple way in which the Internet connects us with our friends is being used to facilitate child sexual exploitation and child sex trafficking.

What is Child Exploitation?

The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, a 2010 report to Congress, concluded that, “offenders have been able to master Internet technologies to better mask their identities.” The report focuses on interviews and research covering child exploitation problems over a 12-month period by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). The NDIC’s research determined that there have been “dramatic increases in the number, and violent character, of the sexually abusive images of children being trafficked through the Internet” and that there is a “disturbing trend of younger children depicted in these images, even including toddlers and infants.” The report also stated that, “the threat of sexual exploitation faced by children today is very real.” The findings laid out in the NDIC’s report serve as a stark reminder that child sexual exploitation exists in the same space that individuals use to connect with friends and family. In order to better understand the issue, we must first define the problem.

At Thorn, we generally focus on two key issues – combating child pornography and combating child sex trafficking. Although in 2014 you’ll see us expand into new focus areas, for the sake of this blog we want to share more about what these two criminal areas really mean.

What is Child Pornography?

Child pornography refers to content that depicts sexually explicit activities involving a child. This is often the actual documentation of a crime scene — images and videos that depict the abuse of a child that is then circulated for personal consumption. Child pornography is a global issue, one that is not limited to specific countries or cities. It may be surprising to some, but the United States remains one of the largest producers and consumers of child abuse content in the world.

While it’s disturbing to think about, it’s important to understand what child pornography content truly is so that we can not dismiss the horrific nature of this crime. A 2005 study revealed that 83 percent of arrested child pornography offenders had images involving children between the ages 6 and 12; 39 percent had images of children between ages 3 and 5; and 19% had images of infants and toddlers under age 3 (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 2005).

How is Child Pornography being shared on the Internet?

Individuals are collecting and sharing child pornography images through virtually every type of Internet technology including websites, email, instant messaging/ICQ, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), newsgroups, bulletin boards, peer-to-peer networks, internet gaming sites, social networking sites and more. Those who seek to participate in, or who are currently participating in the exploitation of children, can connect on Internet networks and forums to share their interests, desires, and experiences abusing children in addition to selling, sharing, and trading images. The emergence of these online communities has also promoted communication between offenders, both normalizing their interest in children and desensitizing them to the physical and psychological damages inflicted on the children being exploited. Furthermore, these online communities may also attract or promote new individuals to get involved in the sexual exploitation of children.

What is Child Sex Trafficking?

Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is the commercial sexual exploitation of American children within U.S. borders. It is defined as the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act” in which the person is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident under the age of 18 years. The exact number of victims is difficult to identify due to the illicit nature of this activity, but a 2005 State Department report estimated that there are 100,000 to 300,000 children at risk of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States and one million children exploited by the global commercial sex trade each year.

In the summer of 2013, the FBI executed a three-day nationwide enforcement action focusing on underage victims of sex trafficking. In coordination with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the sweep recovered 105 sexually exploited children and arrested 150 pimps and others in 76 cities across the country. This was the largest enforcement action ever of its kind. While major busts like this get the majority of attention in the news, sadly, sex trafficking is happening 24/7, 365 days a year.

Thorn is on a mission to protect children from digital exploitation, child pornography and sex trafficking. We have successfully partnered with a number of technology companies and nonprofit organizations, creating an alliance of “digital defenders.” Thorn has also worked to develop the Thorn Technology Task Force, one of the largest industry task forces, comprised of more than twenty companies, dedicated to driving technology innovation to fight child sexual exploitation.

To learn more about our work, watch the video below: