Introduction

Technological developments
have far outstripped our
expectations

We have entered the third decade of the global fight against child sexual abuse material (CSAM). In this time, law enforcement, policy makers, industry, civil society organisations, academic researchers and others have come together to develop truly innovative solutions.

Technological developments have far outstripped our expectations, changing beyond recognition how we all interact. They have had a hugely beneficial impact on children and young people, but also exposed them to the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. And they have presented ever-evolving challenges to those whose job it is to protect children and combat offending.

From images to virtual reality

When I started my career in law enforcement, we were preoccupied with offenders who used their credit cards to buy photographs from websites. We were able to identify them by tracking payments and resolving their IP addresses. Then came the advent of chat rooms and social media, and for the first time adults and young people had the opportunity to interact in large numbers online. Grooming via social sites emerged, with the aim of meeting children offline for sexual activity. As digital camera and photo sharing capabilities rapidly improved, we witnessed an increase in the solicitation of CSAM directly from children and young people.

We are now in a new era, where self-generated CSAM is live-streamed, and where we are all having to think about how best to deploy emergency support to children and young people who may be experiencing crises in real time. Offenders, meanwhile, have taken full advantage of the technology at their disposal, making use of end-to-end encryption, darknet tools and cryptocurrencies to obscure their activities. Looking ahead, we are preparing ourselves for what child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) may look like in emerging environments such as virtual and augmented reality, and what artificial intelligence may mean for efforts to combat CSAM.

Technologies to prevent abuse

At the same time, we have come to realise that technology is as fundamental to combating online child sexual exploitation as it is to its commission. As a global community of partners, we started by focusing our efforts on identifying the victims – through the International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database – and, with Microsoft’s PhotoDNA, removing the material. NetClean has played and continues to play an important role in the deployment of technological solutions in the community, especially in workplaces. Most recently, Canada’s Project Arachnid has shown how machine learning can assist in the proactive identification and removal of CSAM.

More knowledge produces better results

This fight is everyone’s responsibility. It requires you, me, and everyone on the planet – regardless of their role or affiliation – to make our best effort to prevent, combat and report the sexual abuse of children. Technology promises to assist not only in removing illegal material and bringing offenders to justice, but also in supporting children and young people who are victims or at risk of abuse, adults with potential to offend against children, and all those who work with them.

The more data we have on a problem, the better our decision-making and response measures will be. As a threat analyst by training, I constantly ask myself and others to challenge our assumptions on CSEA, and to base counter-measures on evidence. Technology now enables us to better understand CSEA online, to track changes in offending in live time, and to share this knowledge with partners in the global child protection community. The analysis presented in this report is a clear step forward, an evidence base that we can use to protect more children from sexual abuse. It is an honour for me to introduce it to you.

About the Author

Dr Victoria Baines is a leading authority on online safety. Her most recent research examines international responses to online child sexual exploitation.

Until 2017, Victoria was Facebook’s Trust & Safety Manager. Prior to this she spent a decade in law enforcement, as Principal Analyst at the UK CEOP Centre, and lead for Strategy & Prevention at the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3).

Victoria is a Visiting Associate of the Oxford Internet Institute and a Visiting Fellow at Bournemouth University. She serves on the Advisory Board of the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE).

Other links