Stopping Child Sex Trafficking & Abuse on the Web
With more than 31 million images and videos in the form of “child sexual abuse content” on the Internet, nations are trying not only to eliminate the cyber criminal providers, but also to identify and, where possible, rescue the child victims.
The state of this effort was highlighted by Ernie Allen, president and CEO of National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in a report this week to the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus. The statement, titled “Child Sex Trafficking in America” is a disturbing read.
Allen cites the US Department of Justice’s National Incidence Study, which has reported that 1.7 million children run away or are thrown away each year, with just 357,600 reported as missing to the police. Conservatively, NCMEC estimates that at least 100,000 children in the US each year are caught up in the insidious world of child prostitution and online child sexual abuse content, with 75 percent working for a pimp. The entry age for girls is 12 to 14; and for boys, 11 to 13.
Due to the poor economy, child sex trafficking is increasing as a worldwide problem, with the Internet playing a major role as a key source of revenue and communication with “clients.” The Web is also a medium for grooming potential victims and runaways, distributing and redistributing “products,” and creating market demand for the traffickers.
Not only is the quantification of the problem important, as Allen’s statement shows; we also have to start changing how we talk about it. As indicated by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), “child sexual abuse content” is now agreed to be the more appropriate term for the problem, rather than the provocative, lurid, and often ill-defined “child porn.”
As within other areas of cyber crime
, the perpetrators are utilizing better methods to hide and avoid detection. To demonstrate how this can be your problem, consider the recent case of a former worker’s compensation investigator. When his employer determined his state-issued laptop consumed more than 5 times the normal Internet bandwidth, the company investigated. He was fired, and local police charged him with possession of illegal images. Fortunately after 11 months of death threats, bad health, and losing his friends, house, and car to fund $250,000 for his defense, it was found by the defense and confirmed by the prosecution that his laptop had been turned into a zombie and a proxy server for the child sexual abuse content.
Other difficult-to-find sources of illegal content, apart from zombies and botnets, include social networks, cyber-criminal bulletproof hosting nets, and mobile technology. More recently, there’s been a resurgence in the use of steganography, i.e., the use of hidden and encrypted files or images within apparently innocuous images, PDF, or multimedia files. This approach makes life even more difficult for organizations such as NCMEC, IWF, and the Association of Internet Hotlines (InHope).
Despite the difficulties, NCMEC has been able to distribute more than 22,000 reports to prosecutors to support cases against child sexual predators.
Another deterrent to offenders are the ongoing court cases of “Amy,” an unwitting former “star” of child sexual abuse content. Her uncle took and distributed indecent photographs when she was eight and nine, and although she is now 20, it is estimated that someone is still caught daily with copies of the photos. A Connecticut judge awarded Amy $200,000 last year from a man collecting and distributing these images. Currently, Amy’s lawyers have filed 350 further criminal motions worth $3.4 million.
Whatever anyone’s views of the issues and methods of dealing with these kinds of offenses, we can all do something. Firstly, update your PC security to avoid becoming an unwitting distributor. Second, be aware and report any possible child sex trafficking or child sexual abuse content via NCMEC’s CyberTipline, IWF’s reporting page, or any local InHope group in your country.