The myth of child sexual abuse happening ‘somewhere else’

The myth of child sexual abuse happening ‘somewhere else’
8 June, 2017 Anna Borgström

The myth of child sexual abuse happening ‘somewhere else’

There is a common misconception that the children in child sexual abuse material are primarily from Asia. However, our recent survey (NetClean Report 2016) show that the material that the police handle in their investigations primarily feature children from Europe and North America. We asked Björn Sellström, from the Swedish Police (now at Interpol) to elaborate on these findings.

Technology drives the production of child sexual abuse material

Björn Sellström, Swedish Police, National Operative Department (NOA), Swedish Cyber Crime Centre, the Child Sexual Abuse Group. Since October 2016 Björn Sellström works at INTERPOL, Crimes against Children unit, Vulnerable Communities Team.

The results in this report [The NetClean Report 2016] reflect my experience. However, from viewing the images, it is difficult to determine whether the children come from Europe instead of the USA, or vice versa – unless for some reason you suspect or know the origin of the image. The material could also just as easily come from Australia. What we can see, is that the majority of the children depicted in child sexual abuse images are of Caucasian origin.

My conclusion is that what drives the production of child sexual abuse material is the internet infrastructure and technology in a specific country. In Europe and the USA, internet access is widespread and technology is highly developed. Therefore, that is where we see the largest share of material coming from.

Home recorded – not commercial

It is important to understand that the overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse material that we see in the investigations is home recorded, and not commercial. As a result, it reflects the children who live where the material is recorded. When I started working on child sexual abuse investigations, there was quite a lot of commercial material from Eastern Europe, and those images and videos are still in circulation. However, the new child sexual material that we see is primarily privately recorded.

The results do not indicate that there is less child sexual abuse in some parts of the world. They only reflect that the abuse is not documented and shared to the same extent. The more new technology and internet connectivity develops around the world, the more material we will see from Africa, Asia and South America.

A problem without borders

A relevant question is whether the respondents of the survey see more children from Europe and the USA in their investigations because they work in those geographical areas. To some extent this may be true, however, child sexual abuse material spreads across the world and across borders. If there had been a large amount of child sexual abuse material from Africa, Asia or South America in circulation, we would have been aware of it and we would have seen the images and videos.

What we can see, is that ordered and live-streamed abuse over the internet is strongly linked to Southeast Asia. Virtually all the cases we handle are from the Philippines. Those cases are also strongly linked to infrastructure and technology – almost all perpetrators are from Europe and the USA.