By using technology to our advantage we can prevent crime and safeguard children

By using technology to our advantage we can prevent crime and safeguard children
9 March, 2020 Guest Writer

By using technology to our advantage we can prevent crime and safeguard children

Throughout the year we will be looking back at the data and contextual analysis presented in the NetClean Report 2019. In a series of blog posts we let experts comment on data from two surveys undertaken with law enforcement on technological trends, and with large businesses that shared how they protect their IT environment and staff from child sexual abuse material.  

First out is John F Clark, President and CEO, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who wrote the introduction to the report, and shared his views on how the development of technology changes the landscape of online child sexual abuse, from scale to how law enforcement now have to work. 

By John F. Clark, President and CEO
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)

As the central hub for cybertips from all US based platform providers, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is acutely aware of the growing problem of child sexual abuse material across the globe. In 2013 the number of cybertip reports received by NCMEC was 1,106,072. In 2018 this had increased to 18,462,424 reports about online child sexual abuse.

Digital development has enabled offenders to produce and share child sexual abuse material at a previously impossible scale. In addition, the last decade’s development of social media platforms and gaming platforms has enabled offenders to reach children directly, and abuse them over the internet without meeting them in person, adding a new dimension to this crime. Live-streaming services, examined closer in this report, has pushed this development further.

John F. Clark, President and CEO
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)

As is the case on all platforms, live-streamed child sexual abuse material is generated in several different ways – either voluntarily, by coercion or by force. However, live-streaming comes with its own challenges. The streaming takes place in real time, on encrypted channels and with no trace left afterwards unless someone records or takes screenshots of the stream.

Another problem that needs to be considered with the development of technology is on which platforms child sexual abuse is discussed and material shared. It is easy to assume that offenders leave old platforms and move with the latest technology and trends onto the latest fora for communication. However, it is not as simple as that. There is still activity on fora that were commonly used 15 years ago. Old spaces are not deserted because new ones come along, instead the problem and dissemination of online child sexual abuse expands and develops across all available platforms.

“Old spaces are not deserted because new ones come along, instead the problem and dissemination of online child sexual abuse expands and develops across all available platforms.”

Similarly, as this report shows, child sexual abuse material is also stored across all available devices and spaces, from computers and laptops, to mobile phones, USB sticks and in online storage spaces such as cloud storage.

It is frequently said that technology is the driver of this problem. However, it is also a possibility and means to do something about it. By using it to our advantage we can prevent crime, safeguard children and stop offenders. Equally important to prevent this crime is building and sharing knowledge about all aspects of it.

What we are seeing today is encouraging. Instances of child sexual abuse, historical and current, are being discussed in the media and by decision makers across North America and Europe, shining a light on issues that we previously allowed to be ignored. The topic has moved higher up on the political agenda and awareness of the importance of dealing with it is increasing.

“When employers ensure that their employees do not commit reprehensible crimes that might also physically affect children in their vicinity, they are also taking a tactical, moral and ethical step to protect the workforce of tomorrow.”

The NetClean Report is an important document and tool that adds to the knowledge base about this crime and helps create the awareness needed to keep this topic high up on the agenda. Not only does it gather and present insights from law enforcement professionals that work with these crimes every day. It is also unique in the focus that it puts on the business world’s response to protecting their internal IT environments. This needs
to be discussed more.

When employers ensure that their employees do not commit reprehensible crimes that might also physically affect children in their vicinity, they are also taking a tactical, moral and ethical step to protect the workforce of tomorrow.

We all need to collaborate. The online world belongs to everyone, and we must make it a safe space for future generations. I believe that initiatives like the NetClean Reports and other initiatives to understand child sexual abuse in the context of developing technologies are vital to ensuring a sustainable approach to stamping out child sexual abuse.

About John F. Clark

John F. Clark is president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Clark has an extensive law-enforcement background, including 28 years with the United States Marshals Service (USMS). Clark was appointed director of the USMS in 2006 as its ninth director, a post he held for five years. Throughout his career, Clark has been a leading child advocate.

About NCMEC

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a private, non-profit corporation in the US, whose mission is to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimization. NCMEC works with families, victims, private industry, law enforcement, and the public to assist with preventing child abductions, recovering missing children, and providing services to deter and combat child sexual exploitation.