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  • Protect Children

New research reveals how offenders use technology platforms for online child sexual abuse

PRESSMEDDELANDE Helsinki, Finland – 20 February 2024 

In a groundbreaking study released by the Helsinki-based child rights NGO, Protect Children, alarming new insights are unveiled about the technology platforms that offenders frequently use to sexually abuse and exploit children online. The research surveyed over 30,000 active online child sexual abuse material offenders and uncovers significant information to tackle the proliferation of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. 

The research reveals that 40% of child sexual abuse material offenders attempted to contact a child after viewing the material. 70% of them sought contact with a child online, mainly through social media, online gaming, or messaging platforms, with Instagram, Facebook, and Discord being the most exploited social media platforms. End-to-end encrypted messaging apps, Telegram, WhatsApp, and Signal were also highlighted as common tools for these illicit activities. In the research report, Protect Children explains that “[t]hese messaging apps are often favoured by offenders due to the security and privacy offered by end-to-end encryption, which allows them to commit crimes without fear of detection or law enforcement presence”. 

Protect Children’s study, funded by Safe Online, brings to light the distressing ease of accessing child sexual abuse material on the open web, predominantly through social media platforms and pornography websites. A staggering 77% of surveyed offenders encountered such material on the open web, with 41% indicating that the open web provided them with information on how to access child sexual abuse material on the dark web. 

Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen, Executive Director, Senior Specialist, and Psychotherapist at Protect Children, emphasizes the critical findings, “The accessibility of child sexual abuse material on mainstream platforms is a wake-up call for urgent action. We all have a responsibility to act now to build a safer world for children”. 

On 20 February 2024, Protect Children will present the research publicly for the first time at a high-level expert event at the European Parliament. The event will facilitate an active dialogue with policy makers and tech industry representatives on the urgent need for tech to step up efforts to tackle online child sexual abuse and exploitation. 

Urgent Call to Action: Tech industry must step up their efforts to keep children safe online 

In response to these findings, Protect Children has outlined a series of actionable recommendations for the tech industry to step up efforts to combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse. These include adopting a children's rights-by-design approach in platform development, improving the availability of online safety resources, enhancing detection and removal of CSAM, implementing perpetration-prevention and deterrence measures, and ensuring stringent age verification processes.  

Protect Children further urges tech companies not to implement end-to-end encryption on their services without appropriate safeguards to ensure access to evidence by law enforcement and maintain the ability to detect and report child sexual abuse material.  

Reflecting on the research, Tegan Insoll, Head of Research at Protect Children, shared, "Our investigation sheds light on the disturbing realities of how children are increasingly at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation online. The data we have collected is a stark reminder of the urgent need for change, and of the responsibility of tech platforms to prioritize the safety of all users”. 

This comprehensive study also sheds light on the profound and lasting impact of online sexual abuse, by incorporating the voices and wisdom of adult survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation in childhood. In response to Protect Children’s global #OurVoice survey of survivors, a shocking 88% of survivors of online sexual abuse or exploitation reveal that they have suffered severe long-term consequences as a result of their abuse. The findings underline the urgent need for a collective response to safeguard children in the digital age. 

Expert Advisor to Protect Children, Simon Bailey CBE, QPM, DL, MSt (Cantab), comments on the importance of the study, “The tech industry has known for decades that their platforms are being used to facilitate the sexual abuse of children. This research has highlighted the scale of the abuse and shown how their design decisions have created a global epidemic of child sexual abuse”. 

The rapid development of technology has facilitated an alarming surge in the accessibility of child sexual abuse material on online platforms. Findings from the UK National Crime Agency indicate that child sexual abuse material can be located on the open web with as few as three clicks through common search engines (NCA, 2020). In 2022, there were a staggering 32 million global reports documenting suspected instances of child sexual abuse material online (NCMEC, 2023). 

The full research report is available here:  

About Protect Children: 

Suojellaan Lapsia, Protect Children ry. is the only organisation in Finland dedicated to ending all forms of sexual violence against children. 

About the funder: 

The research was conducted with the support of the Safe Online. However, the opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author Protect Children and do not necessarily reflect those of Safe Online. 

Safe Online is the only global investment vehicle dedicated to keeping children safe in the digital world. Through investing in innovation and bringing key actors together, Safe Online helps shape a digital world that is safe and empowering for all children and young people, everywhere.  

For further information, please contact:  

Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen, Executive Director at Protect Children

Tegan Insoll, Head of Research at Protect Children  +358 40 610 2000  


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