John Shehan: There has been a significant increase in self-produced material

John Shehan: There has been a significant increase in self-produced material
24 July, 2019 Guest Writer
In Reports and research

There has been a significant increase in self-produced material

Self-produced material, whether voluntarily made or produced through grooming and extortion is on the rise. The images fall within a broad spectrum, from everyday holiday snaps to sexual extortion where victims are forced to take images of themselves. In the NetClean Report 2018 more than 90% of police officers state that they come across these images in the material that they investigate, and here John Shehan from NCMEC gives some context to this trend.

By John Shehan, Vice President of the Exploited Children Division (ECD) at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)

This NetClean Report data about self-produced material matches the data patterns that we see at NCMEC. We have seen a significant rise in this type of material over the past ten years. It is, however, important to highlight that the majority of child sexual abuse material is still produced by people in close proximity to children, e.g. a parent, grandparent, more distant relative, coach or similar.

John Shehan

Increase in grooming and sexual extortion

When looking at grooming and extortion, our data points to a greater increase in grooming and sexual extortion than the NetClean Report does. We have been tracking child grooming and sexual extortion crimes since 2013 and have seen an increase in cases (2015-2016) of 150 percent; a number that is continuing to rise.

There are also a large number of hidden cases. Behind every discovered case there are often tens or hundreds of other victims that the offender has groomed and extorted. The majority of those victims do not come forward and continue to comply with the offender because of threats of material being posted on social media and sent to the victim’s parents.

Similar to the NetClean Report, our data suggests that children are extorted primarily for more images. We have also seen a development in how offenders operate. They are now moving children increasingly quickly off gaming platforms, onto social media and then onto video platforms that are not as closely monitored. Likewise, the conversation is now moving quicker from innocent messages to explicit demands and threats. With the increased use of the video format the demands have become increasingly graphic. This is because the offender is able to ask for material with motion and sound, rather than just an image.

“… we see that the age range of the children is between 8 and 17 years old, with an average age of 15 years.”

The children range from 8 to 17 in age

Examining the extortion material in our database, we see that the age range of the children is between 8 and 17 years old, with an average age of 15 years. 78 percent of the children are girls. We have not come across children younger than 6 or 7 years old, and I would say that when that happens, those cases are anomalies, and the result of older siblings having been groomed or extorted into involving them.

Trafficking is a complicated issue

A less clear-cut area concerns images connected to trafficked children. It can often be difficult to determine how old these children are, because of the make-up and attire that they are made to wear. These images are often not as sexually explicit or undressed as other types of child sexual abuse material. We are currently working with a number of large technology companies to help them develop indicators for the trafficking of children.

An important component in our work to stop the dissemination of child sexual abuse material is our hash list which we share with our partners. We are continuously developing this list and we are working to add a hash list of self-produced material. The aim is to help those children get the images and videos removed from the Internet.


NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) is the US’ national clearing house for reports on child sexual abuse material for US based IT companies. NCMEC also operates a hotline where the public can report suspected child sexual abuse material.