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This Organization’s Plan to Erase Child Porn from the Internet Might Actually Work

By November 20, 2019 No Comments

This #NoPornovember is all about recognizing the individuals who inspire themselves, their relationships, their communities, and our world to be porn-free. Click here to check out what this month is all about, and remember that Change Begins With One.

Child sexual abuse is a human issue, but technology has dramatically altered its severity and prevalence. It’s always existed in some form, but now the internet has made sharing child exploitation images possible at an immeasurable rate that law enforcement struggles to contain today.

But if technology made this possible, can technology also reverse the issue?

Thorn is an anti-child exploitation images organization founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, and in a recent TED talk, the organization’s CEO Julia Cordua announced their plan to eliminate child pornography from the internet.

This is an ambitious mission. While it is widely accepted that child porn—also accurately known as child sexual abuse material—is deeply harmful, it is also thought to be impossible to remove online. But is that true?

Related: 14-Year-Old Trafficking Victim Took Down California Trafficking Ring With One Text

Common internet knowledge says once an image is shared online, it’s there forever. In the case of child porn, it is often shared, copied, or downloaded, perpetuating a cycle of abuse and trauma. It can spread across the globe literally faster than wildfire.

Child sexual abuse material knows no bounds. Boys and girls from ages 0-18 years-old are victimized and then fetishized online in an estimated $3 billion dollar underground industry. As fellow fighters against child exploitation and trafficking, we want more conversations and ambitious goals to raise awareness of the proliferation and harm of child pornography.

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Fighting child porn on a massive scale

Last year, 45 million images and videos of suspected child sexual abuse were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. That’s nearly double the amount from 2017 and only accounting for reports in the US.

In the UK, the Internet Watch Foundation removed over 100,000 web pages showing child sexual abuse material in 2018. That number has gone up by a third every year.

Not only has the internet made sharing child sexual abuse material easier, but it also fuels communities of likeminded people. Online groups can be beneficial to connecting people and communities around the world, but when it comes to child porn, they normalize abusive behaviors and desensitize offenders to the pain and trauma inflicted on exploited children.

Related: Report: The US Is One Of The Biggest Consumers Of Sexual Exploitation In The World

Julie Cordua from Thorn says those millions of reported images and videos mostly came from 12 companies—think major social media or image and video sharing platforms. But Cordua says child sexual abuse material likely exists on every platform that accepts user-generated content.

Here’s more information about what Thorn does and how these companies are facilitating child sexual abuse images.

This goes against the usual expectations that child porn is only a problem on dark web sites or P2P sharing networks and implicates small and medium-sized companies as well as big tech firms. Clearly, the spread of child porn is so enormous that the blame doesn’t only sit with a handful of companies, but requires a proactive response from everyone.

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How to eliminate child porn online

To achieve their ambitious goal, Thorn listed four steps to combating child sexual abuse material online.

Thorn built software originally to help law enforcement identify sex trafficking victims, and their efforts have reduced investigation times by more than 65%. Their current step 1 plan is to hone those tools already used by all 50 states and 38 countries to be able to quickly identify child sexual abuse material.

Related: Why Do Some People Fight Against Sex Trafficking But Unconditionally Support Porn?

Additionally, the organization plans to invest in research and development to stay ahead of the curve. Like a game of cat and mouse, as they develop software to identify victims, perpetrators find places to hide. This is why the third step is to create global partnerships not only with law enforcement and other NGOs but also for-profit companies, including the small and medium businesses who may be shocked to learn that their platform is being used to share abuse. It can be a hard sell to a company to invest in software that won’t bring in revenue, but Thorn’s goal is to help them identify, remove, and report child sexual abuse material on their platforms because it needs to be done.

Thorn’s final step is to make hashing technology more efficient by sharing data. A hash function takes a lot of data and reduces it to a small volume by assigning a unique identifier to the file. To most of us, this ID looks like a series of numbers, but this process is being cleverly used to identify illegal images. Before this was available, law enforcement had a hard time distinguishing between known child abuse images and those that were new.

Related: How One Uber Driver Rescued An Underage Sex Trafficking Victim

The trouble now, according to Cordua, is there are hashes sitting in databases all around the world with little to no communication between law enforcement or companies. Not connecting the data means law enforcement doesn’t know who needs to be identified or which children have already been rescued. But they’re aiming to fix that.

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What can you do?

The Canadian Center for Child Protection conducted a survey of the first generation of victims whose abuse went viral to understand their unique trauma. Reportedly, 95% experienced anxiety, 83% had thought of suicide, and 60% had attempted. They reported living in fear of being recognized on the street, at school or in a job interview, and for 30% of them, this fear was realized.

Related: Why Fighting Sex Trafficking Needs To Include Fighting Porn

These numbers are tragic, but a lot can and is being done to change them. Every one of us can consider what we consume by remembering the link between the mainstream porn industry and child exploitation.

We can remember the reality that if there’s a platform users can upload and share content, there will likely be child sexual abuse material on it, too. We can mobilize the message because when we don’t talk about it, this content thrives. We can join the fight along with Thorn to eliminate child pornography from the internet.

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