Understanding tech pathways of CSAM users
Updated: Sep 13
In April 2023, Protect Children launched a new research, with the aim to enhance help-seeking motivations of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) users and understand their tech pathways to the dark web.
In 2022, Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received 32,059,029 reports of suspected online child sexual exploitation. During the same year, Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) received 375,230 reports of suspected online child sexual abuse, out of which 255,588 were confirmed to contain CSAM.
The rapid development of technology has contributed to an increase in technology-facilitated sexual violence against children. Anonymity settings, introduced without child safety considerations, have eased the possibility to search, view, and share CSAM or contact children directly.
To address this ever-increasing issue, in the ReDirection project, Protect Children is conducting innovative research to expand knowledge on the tech pathways of CSAM users. Learning more about their tech pathways to the dark web will allow us to prevent offenders from moving to more anonymous, encrypted, and technologically advanced platforms, where they can evade detection by law enforcement and continue viewing, searching, and sharing CSAM.
To understand the pathways that CSAM users follow, Protect Children specialists have developed nine new questions for the ReDirection ‘Help us to help you’ survey that targets active CSAM users. The survey appears on dark web search engines when individuals search for CSAM using relevant key words. The ‘Help us to help you’ survey asks CSAM users about their feelings, thoughts, emotions, and behaviour related to CSAM use.
The new questions ask CSAM users:
if they encountered CSAM or links to CSAM on the surface web;
how they learnt to access CSAM in the dark web;
which social media platforms and messengers they use to search, view, or share CSAM;
which social media platforms and messengers they use to contact children.
All questions are multiple choice questions with an option of submitting an open-ended response. In the suggested response options, we have added the names of the most popular social media platforms and messengers.
The questions are currently available in 16 languages: English, Spanish, Finnish, Russian, Portuguese, German, Italian, Estonian, Japanese, French, Arabic, Czech, Dutch, Swedish, Tagalog, and Polish.
Since the data collection period began on 27 April, we have collected groundbreaking data from 584 anonymous CSAM users.
At the end of the project, Protect Children will share research results and relevant recommendations to the tech industry. Working in strong collaboration, child protection and tech organisations can achieve the greatest results: stop CSAM users from progressing down pathways to further offending and prevent more child victims.
Preliminary project results will be announced in the ReDirection International Expert Webinar 2023 on 4 September 2023 at 15:00 CET.
Stay tuned! The blogpost about the second goal of the project - enhancing help-seeking motivations of CSAM users will be published in September. Subscribe to Protect Children's newsletter to follow the project’s developments.
The research is funded by Tech Coalition #SafeOnline Research Fund. End Violence’s 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.