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Understanding How Child Sexual Abuse Images are Used to Groom Abuse Victims

By October 6, 2020No Comments
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There seems to be a joint concern for and defensiveness of the most innocent and helpless among us: children.

Unlike the debate surrounding adult participation in the sex industry, the sexual exploitation of children—in any form—is collectively recognized as unacceptable. The sexual exploitation of children, of course, includes child sexual abuse images (CSAM) [1]—also known as child pornography—which is any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving someone under 18 years of age and is a serious crime, punishable under U.S. federal law. [9]

However, despite any attempts at cracking down on child exploitation images, the US is one of the top producers of it in the world [10] and—as you can imagine—contributes greatly to this underground multimillion-dollar network. [1]

Brain Heart World

Rising demand for an underground industry

There is an incredible demand for child exploitation images—a demand that Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, says has not only been exaggerated by, but catered to by the advancements of the internet. [10] In fact, research suggests that those who reap the most significant profit from child exploitation images are not actual consumers—just businesspersons exploiting children for financial gain. [1]

Related: How U.S. Military Veterans Are Winning The Fight Against Child Sexual Abuse Images

And to make matters worse, studies do show a strong correlation between pornography consumption and various forms of victimized abuse. [1][5] And on top of that, many argue that child exploitation images—in many ways—can breed sexual assault, harassment, and molestation. [1][2][3][4][6][10]

Dr. Cynthia Crosson-Tower, a national expert on child abuse and neglect, wrote:

“Some feel that pornography is either harmless or that it is an acceptable outlet for those who might otherwise act out sexually [violence]. And yet, exposure to pornography desensitizes so that some individuals are more likely to play out their fantasies.” [1][4]

Basically, some feel that porn decreases sexual contact offenses—or prevents them altogether—while others argue it may, in fact, promote sexual violence and abuse.

This is especially haunting when we consider the victims who are targeted due to the very nature of child exploitation: children. But it’s something we really don’t talk about enough—as Demi Moore, actress and co-founder of Thorn, Digital Defenders of Children, put it: “In this country it’s somewhat of an invisible issue, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” [10]

We understand that even saying the words “child pornography” or “child sexual abuse images” out loud can be awkward, but, unfortunately, the lack of conversation is maybe what has contributed the most to the we-condemn-this-behavior-and-are-the-ultimate-contributor paradox the U.S. is currently facing.

Related: 6 Ways The Mainstream Porn Industry Fuels Child Sexual Abuse

Even more, how can we identify a connection between “child exploitation images” and “abuse” and not talk about the details?

Consider Before Consuming - Heather Peach

We think it’s time to start speaking up about it. Here are a few facts to get the ball rolling:

Child sexual abuse images are used to groom victims

Child grooming is defined as “befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions with the object of sexual abuse. It also regularly lures minors into child-trafficking situations, illicit businesses such as child prostitution, or the production of CSAM.” And showing a potential victim pornography is undoubtedly part of this process.

In addition to consuming CSAM, predators will often share CSAM with their victims to lower inhibition. [1] Crosson-Tower writes: “Children who see peers engaging in sex and apparently enjoying it may be more likely to comply with the molester’s demands.” [1] The predator may even use the medium (CSAM) to invite victims to participate as actors, proceeding to photograph/video sexual encounters with the child to use as blackmail against the victims (an attempt at ensuring secrecy).

Related: Apple Fights Child Abuse Images By Scanning Users’ Uploaded iCloud Photos

Also, predators may identify the insecurities of their victims (i.e. body images issues,) only to flatter their victims into participating in “homemade” child sexual abuse images (like saying, “You’re like a supermodel!”)—then used to collect and distribute more CSAM. [1][2][3]

In a lot of these cases, CSAM is both a vehicle for abuse, and a by-product of abuse; predators often have the opportunity to be financially compensated for their contributions to the CSAM industry. [1] It’s a twisted cycle of exploitation with untold consequences on victims and viewers.

Impact Arrows

Syndicated sex rings and child sexual abuse images

According to research, “Syndicated sex rings are more formalized organizations that recruit children, produce pornography, sponsor prostitution, and can have a vast network of customers.” [1]

Contrary to popular belief, sex rings are not exclusively driven by prostitution/sex trafficking, but they include the production and distribution of pornography/child sexual abuse images. [1] Nor do sex rings have to be huge productions or networks—a sex ring, by definition, is only to include multiple offenders and multiple victims.

Related: How To Report Child Sexual Abuse Material If You Or Someone You Know Sees It Online

Children are often initiated into syndicated sex rings by the adults in their familial/social networks—parents, teachers, coaches, babysitters, etc. Just read and watch Jessa’s story for a real life example of this. [1] However, with the advancement of the internet, predators can easily recruit children/teenagers, and request/receive sexually explicit content without a physical meeting (email/chat rooms/etc.) [1] As with single-predator-single-victim cases, pornography may be used to groom children for participation in sex rings. [1]

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The effects of victimized exploitation

A victim’s response to sexual exploitation depends largely on the extent of involvement, and the reactions of their networks (like blame, help, denial, etc.) [1] Crosson-Tower explains:

“For children who have become deeply involved in pornography, the most significant problems seem to involve the direction and values of their lives. They may have difficulty separating love and sex, gaining a true sense of their own worth, and seeing themselves on a par with their peers. Because their experiences differ so completely from “normal” children, pornography victims may find themselves becoming involved in a deviant lifestyle. Sex is something they know; using sex for attention or for a feeling of importance or to make money is part of their history. It is not surprising that pornographic “stars” often continue in the business or turn to prostitution. It is not unlikely for such individuals to later become involved in the production of child pornography [themselves].” [1][6]

Related: Why There’s Been A 106% Increase In Child Sexual Exploitation Reports During The Pandemic

The common theme we’re seeing: exposure to and participation in child sexual abuse images further guarantees the survival of the industry. It’s time to break the cycle.

Without eliminating the industry, we can not hope to eliminate the paralleled abuse and exploitation. Now, more than ever, it’s time for us to raise our voices against this tide of abuse and stop the demand for it. Together, our voices are loud. Together, we must speak out against sexual exploitation. Are you with us?

Citations

[1] Crosson-Tower, C. (2005). Understanding child abuse and neglect.
[2] McLaughlin, J. F. (1998). Technophilia: A modern day paraphilia. Knight stick: Publication of the New Hampshire police association, 51, 47-51.
[3] McLaughlin, J. F. (2000). Cyber child sex offender typology. Knight Stick: Publication of the New Hampshire Police Association, 51, 39-42.
[4] Hughes, D. R., & Campbell, P. T. (1998). Kids online. Fleming H. Revel, Grand Rapids, MI.
[5] Freeman-Longo, R. E., & Blanchard, G. T. (1998). Sexual abuse in America: Epidemic of the 21st century (pp. 168-69). Brandon, VT: Safer Society Press.
[6] Flowers, R. B. (2001). Runaway kids and teenage prostitution: America’s lost, abandoned, and sexually exploited children (No. 54). Greenwood Publishing Group.
[7] Crosson-Tower, C. (2014). Confronting child and adolescent sexual abuse. Sage Publications.
[8] Jenkins, P. (2001). Beyond tolerance: Child pornography on the Internet. NYU Press.
[9] Citizen’s Guide To U.S. Federal Law On Child Pornography. (n.d.). Retrieved August, from https://www.justice.gov/criminal-ceos/citizens-guide-us-federal-law-child-pornography
[10] D. (2013, November 14). Retrieved August, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Se4OvAGJu4U
[11] What is Child Abuse. (n.d.). Retrieved August, from https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse/
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