A young child turns on their computer to do some research for school. After some time, they find themselves on social media, engaging in a text chat with a child of a similar age. They exchange a few images back and forth. It seems harmless. But unbeknownst to the child, the person on the other end of the line is not who they think. And their intentions are far darker than they could ever imagine.
Child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is a terrifying notion for victims and parents alike. The realities of online exploitation are far-reaching and complex. But as bystanders, you have more power than you think in combating this horrendous crime.
In order to play your part in eliminating child sexual abuse material, it’s important to understand the issue and know your part if you come across any material online.
This article will help you understand what child sexual abuse material is, how exploiters operate, and what actions to take if you happen to inadvertently come across this type of content.
What is Child Sexual Abuse Material?
Child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is any representation of a child (real or virtual), engaged in real or simulated sexual activities, or any representation of a child for primarily sexual purposes.
Potential victims of CSAM are often targeted on social media, websites, and even video games. Exploiters build relationships with victims and groom them into performing, or posing for, illegal and abusive acts. These are most often complete strangers searching for any sign of vulnerability among youth. An analysis of online reports by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found that 98% of reported offenders were seemingly unknown to the victim offline.
For many, the exploitation can last for years. One study found that 25% of those surveyed were exploited for 6-10 years. However, the crime also creates a permanent record of the abuse. Youth often experience a lifetime of re-victimization knowing their images continue to circulate online. This re-victimization causes lasting damage to the child that can alter their mental health, permanently harm their self-confidence, and damage their ability to form healthy relationships.
Due to a number of barriers, it’s difficult to assess the volume of CSAM around the world. The U.S. Child Victim Identification Program has reviewed more than 207 million images and videos of CSAM.
Reporting CSAM Globally
CSAM can appear on any of the major social media platforms. These platforms have protocol for reporting any abusive material. If you ever happen to come across an image or video you believe to be abusive or involving a minor, always report it! Be sure to always report directly within the platform and do not share it. It is important to not perpetuate the issue by sharing it further.
Below are the reporting mechanisms for each major social media platform:
Reporting in the U.S.
If you encounter CSAM outside of the above platforms, we recommend using the following links to report abuse.
An increasing number of well-intentioned and concerned people are raising the level of discussion about child exploitation and human trafficking through social media and other channels. Please exercise good judgement when reporting tips. All tips are taken seriously, however, conspiracy-related reports from people with no direct knowledge of trafficking or CSAM situations can overwhelm services meant for victims. Please follow the above guidelines for reporting CSAM.
Self Care After Inadvertently Viewing CSAM
Coming across CSAM online can be shocking and/or traumatizing. Be sure to take a step away and take the steps necessary to protect your own mental health.
If needed, reach out for direct counseling support.
Talk with Your Kids
There are numerous resources that can help you learn more about keeping your own children safe online. We have compiled a number of resources that you and your kids can read to stay safe. Holding these types of conversations with your children are so important and can make a world of difference in their lives.
You Also Have a Role
Since teachers spend so much time with youth, they play an important role in keeping children safe from online predators. Click here to learn more about what educators can do.
Motivated to Take Action?
You Can Do Something!
If you’re feeling motivated to volunteer or work on combating exploitation or human trafficking, connect with organizations in your area who can help you join their cause. Organizations are always looking for passionate volunteers and employees to join their team. You might have a skill or talent they desperately need.
You can also register to join our group of over 50,000 O.U.R. Volunteers. Sign up here to register and join thousands of others worldwide in the fight to end human trafficking. O.U.R. Volunteers use their unique talents and skills to spread awareness in their communities by holding and attending fundraisers and events.
We have several Volunteer Area Teams in various locations in the U.S. Click here find a team near you.
*O.U.R. Volunteers help fight human trafficking by spreading awareness and raising funds; our volunteers do not participate in investigations or operations.