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‘CSAM is a Gendered Issue’, Protect Children’s recent research shows

BLOG POST

International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October 2023


This blog post was researched and written by Ester Proseku and Eva Díaz Bethencourt, who work as interns at Protect Children. Passionate human rights advocates, Ester and Eva, are completing their Master’s­ Degree­ Pro­gramme in­­ Inter­national Law­ and­ Human­ Rights at Åbo Akademi University. At Protect Children, they are contributing to our ongoing work to understand and prevent childhood sexual violence.

Child sexual abuse material (CSAM), often misleadingly referred to child pornography, consists of images, videos, live-streaming and any other material that depicts sexual violence against a child. CSAM has devastating impacts on children and can have life-long consequences. All children are at risk of falling victim to CSAM-related offences, however our recent research results show that CSAM is not gender-neutral.


The preliminary results of the anonymous survey on dark web search engines we conducted as part of our 2KNOW project, shows that CSAM is a gendered issue. Regarding the demographics of the respondents, 69% identified as men, 11% as women, and 6% as non-binary. As for the potential CSAM victims' demographics, in 63% of the cases respondents reveal searching for CSAM that depict girls and in 19% of the cases they searched for material portraying boys.


Likewise, one of the main findings of our latest published research ‘Spanish-speaking CSAM users in the Dark Web’, suggests that Spanish-speaking CSAM users predominantly view CSAM depicting girls, rather than material that depicts boys, in a ratio of 3:2. However, respondents reported watching live streamed CSAM depicting boys more than girls.


Our 2021 research ‘CSAM Users in the Dark Web: Protecting Children Through Prevention’, also corroborates that CSAM is a gendered issue. In particular, 45% of the respondents to our ‘Help us to help you’ survey indicated that they view CSAM related to girls aged 4-13, while 18% revealed they view CSAM depicting boys in the same age range.[1] Whilst girls are more likely to be depicted in such material, the content depicting boys is often more explicit or egregious.[2]


These results show that CSAM impacts differently on girls and boys, as well as that men are more likely to search for CSAM than women. In consequence, it is crucial to take a gender-sensitive approach to CSAM-related offences, to understand the nature, patterns and risk factors of this type of sexual violence against children. A gender-sensitive lens seeks to eliminate stereotyping and gender roles because they create unequal gender relations and perpetuate structural discrimination. Acknowledging the gendered dimension of CSAM-related crimes would allow all stakeholders to develop preventive and protective measures that consider the different impacts that CSAM has on its potential victims and, consequently, are adequate to effectively protect all children from crimes concerning CSAM.

[1] Tegan Insoll, Anna Ovaska and Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen (2021) <CSAM Users in the Dark Web: Protecting Children Through Prevention (suojellaanlapsia.fi)> 15. [2] Ethel Quayle & Terry Jones, ‘Sexualized images of children on the Internet’, 1 Sexual Abuse 7 (2011) <Sexualized images of children on the Internet - PubMed (nih.gov)> ; ECPAT International, ‘Trends in online child sexual abuse material’ (April 2018, Bangkok) 12-13; National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), ‘Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)’ <Child Sexual Abuse Material (missingkids.org)>.

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