Preventing online sexual violence against children by researching and rehabilitating offenders.
In the ReDirection project we conduct innovative research to learn about anonymous offenders who search for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the dark web. We develop perpetration-prevention measures to prevent sexual violence against children.
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Research on child sexual abuse material users in the dark web
Traditional research on child sexual abuse material (CSAM) users contains an inherent bias as it is often based on research on known or convicted offenders. However, it is widely known that CSAM offences are hidden crimes, and the majority of offenders are never reported or convicted. Our research aims to circumvent this bias by directly researching the offenders who may never be convicted.
To understand more about CSAM offending, we host surveys in dark web search engines asking about the habits, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of individuals who search for CSAM. Since we launched the surveys in 2020, we have received over 26,000 responses. These responses have given us an unprecedented insight into undetected, anonymous child sexual abuse offenders.
What have we learnt about child sexual abuse material users?
A majority of the respondents say that they were first exposed to child sexual abuse material while they were children themselves. 70% report that they were under the age of 18 when they first saw the material, and around 40% were under 13. Most respondents say that they first saw the material accidentally, rather than after intentionally searching for it.
Viewing CSAM depicting girls is more prevalent than viewing CSAM depicting boys. This finding is supported by the analysis of the sex of victims by the IWF. Over the last three years, reports of child sexual abuse material have consistently depicted more girls than boys.5 45% of CSAM users reported that they search for CSAM depicting girls aged 4-13, whilst 18% said they search for material depicting boys of the same age. The other respondents reported that they view images and videos depicting infants and toddlers, violent or sadistic and brutal material, or other violent material.
Many CSAM users are at a high risk of direct offending against children. 52% of respondents have felt afraid that their CSAM use would lead to an in-person offence and 37% have sought direct contact with children online. 44% have at least once thought of seeking direct contact with a child through online platforms. The risk factors of CSAM users seeking direct contact with children online include frequent use of CSAM, older age of first exposure to CSAM, viewing CSAM depicting toddlers and infants, having thoughts of self-expressing prior to viewing CSAM, and being in contact with other CSAM users.
There is a clear demand for effective help resources among CSAM users. The results from our ReDirection surveys indicate that around 50% of CSAM users would like to stop searching for, viewing, and sharing CSAM, and 62% have tried to stop. However, only 28% have sought help or thought of getting help. And only 3% of respondents have received help.
Learn more about our innovative research in our reports, articles, and blog posts.
Hankkeen rahoittaja Safe Online Initiative at End Violence on globaali organisaatio, joka toimii YK:n kestävän kehityksen tavoitteen 16 mukaisesti lapsiin kohdistuvaa väkivaltaa vastaan.
Child sexual abuse material: a complex epidemic requiring an innovative response
We are currently facing a global epidemic of the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online. With the advancement of technology, the amount of CSAM has grown exponentially and explosively worldwide. In 2022, there were 32 million global reports of suspected child sexual abuse material. Crimes of sexual violence against children of which there is recorded footage are particularly traumatic for the child. For victims of CSAM, the mere awareness that there is a video recording or photograph of their sexual abuse, coupled with the fear of its possible spread and circulation online, can have a life-long devastating impact. Each time the CSAM is viewed again, the child is re-victimised.
CSAM is easily accessible online and can be found not only on the dark web or on end-to-end encrypted anonymous platforms, but also in the surface web. According to the UK National Crime Agency, CSAM can be found via a regular browser through only three clicks. Offenders who search for and view child sexual abuse material are a distinct group of perpetrators. This creates new challenges in response and prevention strategies.
Child sexual abuse material, or CSAM, (often misleadingly referred to as ‘child pornography’) includes images, videos, live-streaming, and any other material that depicts sexual violence against a child. Behind every image, a real child is being sexually abused.
ReDirection Self-Help Program: Development of an online help resource to stop using CSAM
After identifying a need for a lower threshold online help resource for CSAM users, Protect Children developed the ReDirection Self-Help Program, an anonymous, online, self-help resource with the primary aim of helping individuals who use child sexual abuse material to change their harmful behaviour and stop using CSAM.
In the program, users learn about the underlying factors and motivations that lead to use of CSAM, and reflect on their own concerns about their behaviour, and how their behaviour aligns with their values. The users are asked to reflect on their motivations and justifications of their behaviour. The program challenges misconceptions and teaches methods to stop viewing CSAM. It also covers relapse and supports users to maintain their behavioural change.
The ReDirection Self-Help Program was developed by the Protect Children in collaboration with psychologists Nina Nurminen & Mikko Ylipekka, Finnish Criminal Sanctions Agency. The ReDirection Self-Help Program is based on the manualised Uusi Suunta - New Direction Individual Program for Sex Offenders, which is in use in Finland and Estonia. The program is based on cognitive behavioral therapy and guides users to change their behavior to stop using child sexual abuse material.
The ReDirection program website has been visited over 80,000 times via the surface web and the dark web since its launch in September 2021. Whilst many visitors do not necessarily actively participate in the program, those who do open the first section tend to continue the program to the end. In a 10-month period from September 2021 to June 2022, 1,422 visitors opened the first section of the program. 97% of them continued to the second section, and 73% continued to the third section.
Feedback from users of the ReDirection program indicates that the program has a positive effect on reducing the use of child sexual abuse material. 77% of respondents to the feedback survey reported that their use of CSAM had reduced or completely stopped since starting the program. 49% reported having completely stopped viewing CSAM.
The program also appears to have a positive effect on confidence to maintain behavioural change, as 67% of users reported feeling very confident about their ability to maintain their behavioural change to stop searching for and viewing CSAM in the long term. The program is well received by those who provide feedback – 78% say they wouldn’t change anything about the program.
User of the ReDirection program:
“I understood for a long time that this was wrong, I thought and tried to find a clue to stop once and for all. And your program gave a huge boost and confidence, especially when I read that there is a real live person behind every video or photo, it caused me a lot of feelings and emotions, a sense of shame for myself and a great desire to change.”
The ReDirection Self-Help Program has been evaluated for scalability by Management Systems International (MSI) as part of the Global Perpetration Prevention: Translating Knowledge to Action program implemented by the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins University. MSI conducted abbreviated scaling assessment of promising interventions for the prevention of child sexual abuse (CSA). During July-September 2022, MSI conducted an assessment of the ReDirection program.
The ReDirection program is currently being evaluated within the EU-funded Project Bridge, which will evaluate two anonymous online therapeutic interventions to help people reduce their sexual urges and behaviours towards children.
Further evaluation of the ReDirection program is currently being prepared.
The Program has been translated into Spanish and culturally adapted by Red PaPaz and Milena Vásquez-Amézquita PhD. Associate Professor at Universidad El Bosque. The ReDirection Self-Help Program is now available on the Helsinki University Hospital Mental Hub in English, Spanish, and Finnish. Further languages of the ReDirection Self-Help Program are coming soon, including Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Czech, Slovak, German, Italian, French, and Portuguese.