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In the crime of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC), children are sexually abused by traffickers who then spread or sell images or videos of the exploitation online. This includes the creation, possession or distribution of CSAM.

CSAM: Child Sexual Abuse Material

Any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (a person less than 18 years old). While often termed “child pornography”, CSAM is the preferred term as “pornography” is consensual. Child sexual abuse and exploitation is never consensual. 

  • Indirect Abuse: Offender is not physically abusing the child in-person; children are coerced into performing sex acts on themselves or peers over live video.
  • Direct Abuse: Offender is “in the room” and abuses the child in-person

Child sexual abuse material is a global issue—material is often produced in one location, hosted in a second, and consumed in a third. Nations in the Global South* are adopting technology more rapidly than safeguards can be developed, heightening the risk of exploitation. (*The Global South includes Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and developing Asia.)

How does the online sexual exploitation of children happen?

1. Offenders Obtain Imagery:

a) By conducting and recording in-person contact abuse

  • The overwhelming majority are parents or family members

b) By grooming or manipulating the child over webcam

  • Social media, communications platforms and online gaming are the most common methods for meeting and grooming children online. 
  • In 2018, Facebook Messenger was responsible for nearly 12 million of the 18.4 million worldwide reports of CSAM.

c) By stealing sexualized imagery and videos of children which have been posted publicly without any coercion

  • Content may have been posted innocently, and victim may or may not be aware of its circulation

2. CSAM is shared online:

a) In forums and networks with other offenders

  • Content is traded and shared to gain social standing 
  • Offenders share tips for grooming children and evading detection
  • Network membership often requires regular submission of new imagery

b) For commercial purposes

  • hidden websites which offer imagery for sale
  • live streaming
  • pay-per-click advertising

3. The problem is perpetuated

Offenders require new material to maintain social standing and membership. Offenders will use images of the victim to blackmail them into producing further photos and videos. Even if images are removed from a site, or if a site has been shut down, there is no guarantee that the images aren’t still in circulation.

This has a lifelong impact on victims—each time an image or video clip is shared or viewed, the child is being re-victimised. Even into adulthood, many victims worry about being recognized by someone who has seen images/videos of their abuse.

“The number of images/videos, while devastatingly harmful and abusive in and of themselves, only captures a sliver of the harm experienced by victims/survivors of child sexual abuse.

Many of these victims have been sexually abused over the course of several years and not every act of abuse is recorded. When we use static numbers to quantify this social epidemic, it in no way captures the full extent of the problem, and the overall abusive experiences of victims and survivors.”

— Canadian Centre for Child Protection, How We are Failing Children, 2019

The Reporting Process

CSAM is identified and reported to tiplines through proactive searches by those tiplines (both humans and AI); by electronic service providers; by the public. After CSAM is identified, reports are assessed, a takedown notice sent to the hosting provider and the website is monitored until content is removed.

Many social media platforms (the most common method for grooming children) use encryption, which is a major obstacle to the detection of offenders. It’s been estimated that more than half of tipline reports will vanish with end-to-end encryption, leaving abuse undetected.

Please report CSAM to:

Sources: Canadian Centre for Child Protection | National Center for Missing & Exploited Children | International Justice Mission | Internet Watch Foundation | WePROTECT Global Alliance, Global Threat Assessment 2019

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