Researching Spanish-Speaking CSAM Users in the Dark Web: 86% of Respondents Have not Sought Help
Updated: Aug 30
#ReDirection 2023 Blog Post Series 05
Protect Children, in collaboration with Red PaPaz, has published a new #ReDirection report ‘Spanish Speaking CSAM users in the Dark Web’ that presents analysis of qualitative and quantitative data gathered through the ReDirection surveys of individuals searching for child sexual abuse material on the dark web. The report provides an overview of the alarming scale of online child sexual abuse, introduces background information on online crimes of sexual violence against children in Spain and Latin America, and suggests research-based recommendations on how to address the ongoing CSAM epidemic.
Unprecedented scale of online sexual violence against children
With rapid development of technology, crimes of sexual violence against children increasingly occur online or are facilitated by the internet. Although more and more children access electronic devices and the internet, the online environment sorely lacks adequate child safety mechanisms. Aided by the internet, one offender can reach hundreds of children, without the need for physical proximity.
In 2022, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received 32 million reports of suspected online child sexual exploitation. During the same year, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) received over 375,000 reports of suspected online child sexual abuse.
Why studying Spanish-speaking CSAM users?
A vast majority of existing research on online child sexual offenders has been conducted in English-speaking countries. To effectively prevent and end crimes of sexual violence against children globally, we need to know more about CSAM users from different countries.
The Spanish language is widely used around the world and spoken natively in South and North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. There are over 490 million native Spanish speakers globally, making it the second largest mother tongue in the world. Spanish is also the 3rd most widely used language on the internet. An estimated 4% of all websites are in Spanish, preceded only by English and Russian. Finally, Spanish-speaking individuals constitute the second largest language group among respondents to the ReDirection surveys.
'Help us to help you'
'No need for help'
Table 1. Data sample analysed in the report (05.05.2021-08.05.2023)
In 2020, Protect Children launched the ReDirection project aiming to research and rehabilitate CSAM users in the dark web. To collect data from this notoriously hard-to-reach population, Protect Children developed research surveys asking CSAM users about their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours related to their use of CSAM. The surveys are suggested to the users who search for CSAM using key words on dark web search engines. Since 2020, we have collected data from over 24,000 respondents and translated the surveys into 21 languages. In total, over 3,000 individuals have responded to the ReDirection surveys in Spanish.
1. Many Spanish-speaking CSAM users were exposed to CSAM involuntarily and at an early age
70% of Spanish-speaking respondents were under 18, and 39% were under 13 years old when they were first exposed to CSAM. In addition, over 50% of Spanish-speaking respondents shared that their first exposure to CSAM was accidental. Exposure to CSAM in childhood can be considered an adverse childhood experience (ACE). ACE can impose long-lasting negative consequences on a child such as difficulties with performing daily tasks, following a desired education or career path or maintaining close relationships, mental and physical health problems, and substance abuse.
2. A majority of Spanish-speaking CSAM users have recently started watching CSAM
Over 50% of Spanish-speaking respondents reported that they have been actively searching and viewing CSAM for 1-4 weeks, meaning that there are many new CSAM users. Qualitative survey data revealed that CSAM is widely available online and can be accessed even on the surface web.
“Reasons why I haven't managed to end this vice: pornography on social media, ease of access on both normal and illegal pornographic sites.” (Original response given in Spanish)
3. Spanish-speaking CSAM users search for CSAM depicting girls and boys at a ratio of 3:2
40% of Spanish-speaking respondents reported that they view CSAM depicting girls aged 4-13 years, and 25% said they view material depicting boys of the same age. Although the majority of detected CSAM depicts girls, we must remember that all children can be at risk of victimization, and the risk of particular crimes fluctuates depending on the gender.
4. Spanish-speaking respondents are less likely to report experiencing difficulties related to CSAM
Only 38% of Spanish speaking CSAM users reported experiencing some difficulties related to their use of CSAM. Denial of difficulties caused by CSAM use may be one of the cognitive distortions related to it. CSAM use has been found to result in deep stress, negative emotions and feelings, difficulties with social and occupational interactions. It may affect individuals’ behaviour and biological processes. CSAM use has been associated with pornography escalation and reported to be an addiction. Such cognitive distortion may become a significant obstacle to help-seeking behaviour and reduce motivation to change.
5. Most Spanish-speaking CSAM users have never sought help to stop searching, using, or sharing CSAM
“I don’t consider myself a bad person and have never done anything bad to a child”
“It's just a hobby, it's nothing addictive or anything I’d like to practice” (Original responses given in Spanish)
As low as 14% of Spanish-speaking respondents reported that they have sought help and only 3% have received help. Despite the low numbers of users who sought help, 50% of respondents shared that they would like to stop searching and viewing CSAM. Research demonstrates that ending CSAM use is possible despite the high prevalence of situational barriers. Help resources for CSAM users are becoming increasingly available in various forms. Protect Children has developed the ReDirection Self-Help Program that helps individuals to end CSAM use (available in English, Spanish, and Finnish) and currently recruits participants for Project BRIDGE that evaluates two help resources for individuals who have sexual interest in children.
Based on the research results, Protect Children has developed recommendations on how to ensure that no child is subject to sexual violence. You can read the recommendations and in-depth data analysis in the report ‘Spanish Speaking CSAM users in the Dark Web’.
The ReDirection project is funded by the Safe Online Initiative at End Violence. Safe Online has invested over US $77M in +100 projects around the world to create a safer internet for children. The Safe Online Initiative, in close partnership with grantees and partners, is leading on global efforts to make the internet safe for children by investing for impact in programmes that work and generating evidence to inform advocacy and collective action.