We live in an online world, one full of unlimited possibilities at the click of a button. However, with vast choices and unrestricted access, a serious and dangerous threat to children also exists...
Exploitation, and the looming fear that children aren’t safe online.
Sometimes, it begins in a simple way; a hello message, a stranger likes your child’s picture on Instagram, or someone they don’t know in person begins complimenting them online. While at times this can be harmless, it could also be the beginning of grooming behavior, where an offender is gaining trust, beginning isolation, and then exploiting a victim.
This type of behavior is typically a result of online enticement, when an individual communicates with someone believed to be a child through the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction. While there are numerous ways that offenders entice children online, some of the most common factors used in online enticement are:
· Starting a sexual conversation as a grooming method rather than a goal
· Asking a child for sexual images or videos
· Developing a rapport through compliments, shared interests, or liking their online post.
· Sending or offering sexual images or videos of themselves
· Offering an incentive such as a gift card, alcohol, drugs, lodging, transportation, or food.
Online enticement can happen to any child, on any platform, at any time. However, there are certain factors that put a child at a higher risk, including using a fake age to gain access to certain online platforms, initiating online communication with people they only know in the online world and sending sexual photos or texts to another person.
The category of online enticement also includes sextortion, a newer online exploitation crime directed towards children in which online coercion is used to acquire sexual images, videos or text from the child, engage in sex with the child in person, or obtain money from the child. Based on reports made to NCMEC, sextortion often starts when a child is targeted and blackmailed by an individual they met online who obtained a sexual image from the child through deceit or coercion.
Unlike online exploitation, where an analysis of CyberTipline reports completed by NCMEC shows that 98% of reported offenders were seemingly unknown to the child, with sextortion, 60% of the time the offender is known by the victim, according to a report by Thorn. Often, they are current or former romantic partners who may hold a sexual image that was sent intentionally by the victim and are now using it to gain more content, threatening the victim if they do not comply.
Unfortunately, both online enticement and sextortion often end with child sexual abuse material (CSAM) being circulated online. NCMEC chooses to use this phrase instead of child pornography, as child sexual abuse material more accurately reflects what is being depicted—the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
As these types of images and videos circulate online, we are forced to enter a disturbing reality where the same platforms we use to share vacation photos and family recipes are also being used to disseminate and collect CSAM, causing victims to suffer re-victimization each time the material is shared or viewed online.
Sadly, online crimes against children do not end with online enticement and sextortion. The crime also often branches into Child Sex Trafficking (CST), when online advertisements for child victims of CST are posted on the internet.
The scary reality of online exploitation is that rates of crime are continually growing. In 2020, NCMEC saw a 97.5% increase of online enticement reports and in December 2021, our CyberTipline surpassed 100 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation, nearly all related to images and videos of children circulating on the internet.
To combat child exploitation, NCMEC deployed our CyberTipline program in 1998 and the Child Victim Identification Program (CVIP) in 2002. CVIP operates on a dual mission to help provide information concerning previously identified child victims and to help locate unidentified child victims featured in sexually abusive images. Additionally, NCMEC hopes to prevent abuse through education and supports families and victims when child sexual exploitation occurs.
There’s no doubt that we live in an online world, and while instant information and constant connection has advantages, it also poses a risk and an undeniable need to work harder to keep children safe online and end child exploitation for good.
If you have something you’d like to report to the CyberTipline, visit our website at https://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/cybertipline.
As the month continues, stay tuned for more information on exploitation and our CyberTipline. For now, read more about online exploitation on our website at https://www.missingkids.org/theissues/onlineenticement.