Currently, all of our cases investigating perpetrators and supporting victims of trafficking and exploitation involve some element of information and communication technology. That’s not to say that all of the exploitation occurred online, but that all of our cases now have some connection to technology — cell phones records, social media accounts where the victims are recruited, online chat rooms and even online payments. Our team provides technical assistance and technology to law enforcement to enhance their abilities to investigate crimes and ensure that there is sufficient evidence in the instances of sexual exploitation of men, women and children.
Here are some terms that might be helpful in defining the landscape of online and online-adjacent sexual exploitation and trafficking:
Online Sexual Exploitation
According to ECPAT, online child sexual exploitation “most commonly includes grooming, live streaming, consuming child sexual abuse material, and coercing and blackmailing children for sexual purposes.”
Child Sexual Abuse Material
We have stopped using “child pornography” because we have learned that experts say it normalizes the idea that children are participants in making something that is always depicting a crime of sexual assault against a minor. This type of content is growing rapidly on the internet.
According to the International Association of Internet Hotlines, “the number of webpages containing child sexual abuse materials increased by 147 percent from 2012 to 2014, with girls and children 10 years old or younger portrayed in 80 percent of these materials.” Source
According to the UN, “92 percent of all child sexual abuse URLs are hosted in five countries: the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, France and the Russian Federation.”
Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
Information and communication technology is the expanded version of information technology (IT). Increasingly, we are seeing cases involving ICT in some way. We will keep referring to this general term when talking about cases that involve smartphones, computers and messaging technology.
ECPAT defines sextortion as “coercing and blackmailing children for sexual purposes. Producing and/or utilizing sexual images and/or videos depicting a child, for the purposes of sexual, financial or other personal gains. Offenders can be adults or peers of the victims – and sometimes the child sexual abuse material is self-produced through manipulation of the victim.” We have seen this apply to cases of adults as well.
Here’s a helpful video from Thorn: