Sexual exploitation of children can happen anywhere. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve a physical touch. In fact, recent technological advancement, especially the widespread use of the Internet and cell phones, has increased the risk of young boys and girls being sexually exploited online. Minors (less than 18 years of age) are being sexually abused online for money, gifts, or anything else.
According to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), as of April 2015, NCMEC’s child victim identification program has reviewed and analyzed more than 139 million child pornography images since it was created in 2002. How do people use the Internet to sexually exploit young children and teenagers? Let’s take a look:
Cybersex commonly refers to using the Internet to engage in sexual behavior, talk or activity. Cybersex takes place online, without any sort of physical contact between the child and the exploiter. Quite often, children are targeted in chat rooms. Although children are not exposed to physical contact, cybersex can traumatize them for life.
Some adults use the Internet to see, produce or distribute photographs of naked children, or children being sexually abused. This is known as child pornography. Child pornography is a serious crime as it leaves the victims scarred for life.
Some websites, despite being illegal, provide images and films of sexually abused children to sexual exploiters. Unfortunately, child pornography is one of the fastest growing businesses online, with estimated annual revenue of $3 billion.
The makers of these horrific images and films generally use a digital camera or a cell phone, so that they do not have to develop the film. They can just download them onto their computers or upload them online to share with others.
Child sexual exploiters steal young teenagers’ personal photographs from their social networking sites. These images are then distributed to people who have a sexual interest in children. Cell phones and laptops are mostly used by exploiters to distribute images.
Some sexual abusers develop friendships with minors through chat rooms or social networking sites. This process of forming a friendship with a minor online is known as grooming. Many times the abuser would ask the victim for his or her personal details, or entice them to have a video chat with them through a webcam. In addition, sexual exploiters lure children into meeting them in the real world to sexually abuse them.
Sexting refers to the sending or receiving of obscene images and videos via text messaging. A grave matter of concern, sexting is a common practice among teenagers. Although sexting takes place between friends, it is illegal for a minor to possess, distribute or manufacture pornography. Any minor found with such images can be arrested for child pornography.
Online child sexual exploitation is likely to rise in future with the rapid rise in social media sites. To protect young teenagers from the dangers of the Internet, many organizations and treatment centers, such as STAR Guides have been helping affected individuals deal with online sexual exploitation. To find out more about STAR Guides, click here.
Matt is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field of youth treatment and psychotherapy since 1995. He did his undergraduate work at BYU and earned his M.S.W. at the University of Utah. He has worked in a variety of treatment setting in his career ranging from wilderness therapy and residential treatment to outpatient treatment and state government.