by Drew Fidler, LCSW-C; and Iona Rudisill, LGSW
Here’s what you should know about child sexual abuse images and how to protect children from the dangers of the internet.
The internet is constantly changing and evolving. As professionals, parents, and people who care about children, the internet and all of its perils present a whole new world of challenges for child protection. This is how prevalent phones and the internet are in children’s lives today:
- 56% of children aged 8 – 12 have a cellphone
- 88% of teens have or have access to cell phones or smartphones
- 92% of teens report going online daily
- including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly,”
- 71% of teens use more than one social networking site
- Children as young as 2 know how to work a tablet or cell phone
Technology was created to be helpful, but if used incorrectly it can be abusive and disruptive with catastrophic results. This wave of access to technology has given birth to a number of different ways that young people can be taken advantage of online, including through the production and manufacturing of child sexual abuse images.
So what are child sexual abuse images? While child sexual abuse images are commonly referred to as child pornography, the latter term doesn’t do the crime justice. Child sexual abuse images are a visual manifestation of child sexual assault that involves the creation of sexually explicit content, typically pictures and videos in which children are being used as sexual objects. Between 1998 and 2016 more than 12.7 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation have been made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Just in case you think these predators are strangers to children: 43% of images are produced by familiar persons, 18% by a parent or guardian, 25% by a neighbor or family friend, and only 18% through online enticement. Additionally, out of the 25 million child sexual abuse images that are annually viewed by NCMEC, 78% of these images depicted youth under the age of 12.
This form of child sexual exploitation is different from other types of child sexual abuse because the images can never fully be recovered. The abuse has been captured in a visual platform and medium that has no boundaries. Once an image is created, the child who has been victimized has no way to take down that image or stop people from viewing, which puts them in an unfortunate space of re-victimization.
Victims of child sexual abuse images experience a wide range of both immediate and long-lasting effects. Common with this form of victimization are feelings of helplessness, heightened anxiety, anger, shame, guilt, increased depression, and symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder. Also, victims of child sexual abuse images often withdraw or isolate themselves from their community due to extreme feelings of paranoia and confusion associated with the distribution of their abuse.
What can you do to protect your children online?
- Communicate: Talk to your kids about their internet usage – the risks, the realities of what is out there, and how to engage with others on social media sites. Think about having a social media contract.
- Be Share Aware: Know what your children are posting and where they are spending their time online. Encourage your child to think before they post or text, and never to share their personal information – address, passwords, phone numbers, etc.
- Know Your Friends: Help your child to understand that not everyone online is who they say they are, and it is important that your child only accept requests from people they know IRL.
- Be Patient, Be Nurturing, & Be Available: Children are going to push boundaries and experiment. Try to be a good listener. Take your time to understand what has happened and how your child has been affected. Listen to their concerns and questions. You may not have all the answers, that is alright.
Drew Fidler, LCSW-C, is the Director of Community Outreach and Education at Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC). Drew works with youth serving organizations to analyze their systems relating to protecting youth, conducts trainings for professionals and community members, and creates programs for organizations both locally and nationally.
Iona Rudisill, LGSW, is BCAC’s Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Program Manager. Iona has been an active member and certified trainer of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) for several years, is presently the Co-Chair of the MHTTF Victim Services Subcommittee, and was recently awarded a Governor’s Citation from Governor Hogan regarding her work against human trafficking in Maryland. Iona serves on NCA’s Commercial Sexual Exloitation of Children (CSEC) Collaborative Work Group, where she contributes to resources and projects that help CACs serve the special needs of this population.