Children as young as 3 or 4 years old are being sexually abused, sometimes tortured, and their screams and cries are posted online for the pleasure of sick adults.
The problem is so horrifying that people have been slow to confront it–including those in the government who need to approve funding to combat it.
No surprise, the problem has exploded.
Nearly 70 million images and videos were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Of this, Facebook reported nearly 60 million photos and videos, reflecting both the size of the platform and its aggressive approach to finding the material.
the explosion of child abuse material, in numbers
In 1998, there were about 3,000 reports of child sexual abuse imagery.
In 2008, there were 100,000 reports.
In 2014, 1 million.
By 2019, 70 million images designated as child sexual abuse imagery were reported.
what is child sexual abuse material, a.k.a child pornography
United States federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (a person less than 18 years old). The NCMEC calls it Child Sexual Abuse Material because the term more accurately reflects the abuse and exploitation of children.
When these child pornographic files are shared on the internet, child victims receive a notification from law enforcement that their pic has been shared, which means they are re-victimized in a permanent almost daily cycle of humiliation and suffering.
Adults, years after their abuse, still live in fear of being recognized from photos and videos on the internet.
“To know that these images are online and that other people are enjoying your degradation for sexual gratification in some ways means you are forever being abused,” said Alicia Kozakiewicz, a survivor of child sexual abuse who has been a longtime internet safety educator.
reporting by social media companies is inconsistent and potentially inaccurate
The social media industry has inconsistent detection practices, which results in some companies reporting larger numbers than others. In addition, tech companies are legally required to report images of child abuse only when they discover them; they are not required to look for them. Facebook and Yahoo have put more effort into finding and removing the material from their platforms.
Online groups are increasingly devoting themselves to sharing images of both younger children and more extreme forms of abuse.
The origins of pedophilia remains largely unknown but current research points to biological development, probably in utero. Geek out on pedophilia here.
In order to become more “privacy-focused,” Facebook plans to begin end-to-end encryption on Messenger. This encryption would make the content of messages inaccessible to third parties, including law enforcement, making efforts to stop online child sexual abuse imagery much more difficult.
Should Facebook use encryption? Check out the debate here.