THE EXPERIENCE AND PERSPECTIVE
OF THE POLICE
– Voluntary self-produced material is most common
Self-produced material is highlighted as an important issue in all three previous NetClean reports. In this year’s report we therefore look closer at how big a problem police officers believe self-produced material to be, what types are most common, and what future trends are likely to be.
Self-produced material can be found within a broad spectrum of images produced with different intended uses. We have chosen to divide the images into five different categories. We talk about images here, but this material can also include moving content.
1. ”Innocent Images”
These are every day pictures, e.g. holiday snaps from the beach or home, that end up in a collection of child sexual abuse images. These images are often taken by the child’s parents or relatives, but can also be taken by the child themselves.
2. Voluntarily self-produced material
These are undressed images where children or teenagers have taken pictures of themselves. They have subsequently found their way into collections of child sexual abuse images. These images may have been produced with the intent of sending them to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
3. Images produced as a result of grooming
These images have been produced and sent to the offender as a result of grooming. Grooming is a process whereby the offender slowly builds up a relationship with a child to win their trust and confidence.
4. Images produced as a result of sexual extortion
These images have been produced as the result of threats and extortion, often referred to as “sextortion”. Grooming can develop into sextortion, or the offender might threaten the child from the start.
5. Images produced as a result of trafficking
This is where children have been forced to pose for or produce images in the context of trafficking; where they are sold and bought for sexual abuse.
How common different types of self-produced material are:
Self-produced material is common
The result of the survey shows that all categories of self-produced material, apart from material taken in trafficking situations, are common or very common in police investigations.
Voluntary self-produced material is most common and on the rise
More than 90 percent of the surveyed police officers report that it is common or very common to see voluntarily self-produced material in investigations. Almost 60 percent of the police officers report that the most common category is voluntarily self-produced images, and close to 90 percent of the police officers report that this type of material is on the increase.
Grooming and sexual extortion
Images that are a result of grooming and sexual extortion were also described as commonly featuring in investigations.
Three quarters of the surveyed police officers report that it is common or very common to see images that are a result of grooming in their investigations. Just over one fifth report that this category is the most common in their investigations. The results indicate that this type of material is not increasing as quickly as voluntarily self-produced material. Although more than half of the police officers report that images as a result of grooming are on the rise, slightly more than 40 percent report that they are neither increasing nor decreasing.
Almost two thirds of the surveyed police officers report that is common or very common to see images that are a result of sexual extortion in their investigations. The trend around these images follows that of images produced as a result of grooming. Almost 60 percent of the police officers report that images as a result of sexual extortion are on the rise, while just over 40 percent report that they are neither increasing nor decreasing.
A reflection, or reservation, about the numbers above is that some of the police officers report that it can be difficult to determine if an image has been produced voluntarily or if it is as a result of grooming or sexual extortion.
The most common type of self-produced material:
“It is very difficult to assess the ‘genesis’ of an image…an image that appears to be voluntarily self-produced can easily be that of sextortion”
“Can’t be sure which self-produced images are voluntary or the result of grooming/coercion”
Along with the material discussed above, innocent images are also present in the surveyed police officers’ investigations. Close to 60 percent of the police officers report that it is common or very common to see these types of images. More police officers, just over three quarters, report that this category of material is neither increasing nor decreasing. Only one quarter report that the prevalence of innocent images is increasing.
Whether different types of self-produced material are increasing or decreasing:
“Trafficking-images” more uncommon
Images from the trafficking category are reported on differently to the other categories of self-produced material. Only one quarter of the surveyed police officers report that it is common or very common to see images that are a result of trafficking. A third report that it is uncommon or very uncommon to see these types of images. Three quarters say that they do not believe that this category is increasing or decreasing.
The respondents pointed out that it can be difficult to determine exactly under which circumstances the images has been produced; especially where there is no additional information about the child in the image.
“Last question is difficult. How do you know if the child was trafficked?”
Comment on insight 1 and 2:
“There has been a significant increase
in self-produced material”
Vice President of the Exploited Children Division (ECD) at the
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)
There has been a significant increase in self-produced material
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.
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.
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 are 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.