Press Releases

Children Abused in Sex Images on the Internet Mostly Aged 11 or Younger New Study Finds

ECPAT-USA Report “We Need to Do Better” based on news reports from 48 states 

Click here to read the full report.

Click here to read the full report.

More than half of children sexually abused in the millions of videos and photos available on the Internet are age 11 or younger, including 17 percent age 4 or younger, according to “We Need to Do Better”, a study released today by ECPAT-USA, the country’s leader in fighting child sex trafficking. The study is based on information from 538 news reports of crimes from 48 of the 50 U.S. states over a three-month period. Offenders, those creating, possessing and disseminating the material, are often in the child’s circle of trust: 56% were connected to schools or other youth work or a religious institution.  

“Despite the astounding growth in child sexual abuse material crimes over the past twenty years, the general public has little understanding about what it means, how vast the problem is, and how violently the children are abused in order to produce the imagery depicted in photographs and recordings of child sexual abuse,” said Carol Smolenski, Executive Director of ECPAT-USA. “We don’t use the word ‘pornography’ because the accurate description is images of sexual assault on children. Sometimes this assault is very violent, and some victims are as young as infants.”

The study found out of the 538 news reports:

  • 281 (52%) reported age-related information on the victim. 

    • 17.4% of victims were age 4 or younger. 

    • 36.7% of victims were age 9 or younger. 

    • 58.0% of victims were age 11 or younger. 

    • 72.6% of victims were age 13 or younger.

  • 133 (24.7%) reported the gender of the victim.

    • 72.9% of victims were female. 

    • 27.1% of victims were male.

  • 114 (21.2%) reported the profession of the offender.

    •  43.0% of cases involved an offender who was a teacher, school employee, youth worker, coach, or youth mentor. 

    • 19.3% of cases involved an offender who was in law enforcement or the armed forces, i.e., police sergeant, officer, state trooper, deputy, detective, public safety dispatcher, or a member of the army, air force, navy or coast guard. 

    • 13.2% of cases involved an offender who was a church worker, including priests and pastors. 

    • 7.0% of cases involved an offender who was a medical professional, i.e., doctor, surgeon, pediatrician, dentist, EMS worker, and health worker

  • All of the cases disclosed the gender of the offenders. 

    • 97% (521 cases) involved a male offender. 

    • 3% (17 cases) involved a female offender.

  • All of the news articles disclosed the age of the offenders. 

    • In 3% of cases, the offender was under the age of 21. 

    • In 61% of cases, the offender was between the ages of 21 and 44. 

    • In 30% of cases, the offender was between 45 and 64 years of age. 

    • In 6% of cases, the offender was over the age of 65.

The data on the 538 cases was gathered by using Google Alerts to find media reports in the United States from October to December of 2015. They include stories written at the time of arrest or, in some cases, at the time of trial or sentencing of a perpetrator.

In recent years the creation and distribution of child sexual abuse material has become much more widespread, with younger children being depicted. The invention of digital technology and the Internet have completely changed the playing field for the crime, making it easy for offenders to create, conceal and spread this material.

The ECPAT-USA report also summarizes the findings of other organizations:

  • Victims are getting younger. According to the USDoJ, the ages of victims depicted in child abuse imagery have significantly decreased. In 2014, 7% of victims were infants. According to the We Protect Global Alliance, this increase in pre-verbal children in recent years has been due to a deliberate effort to involve children who cannot self-report their abuse or describe what happened.

  • Images are more violent than ever: Reports by other organizations describe the increasing violence shown in the images. A report by ECPAT International and Interpol in 2018 found that more than 60% of victims were prepubescent and that the younger the child that was depicted, the more severe was the abuse.

  • There’s more than ever: The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC’s) CyberTipline received over 10.2 million reports of child sex abuse materials in 2017, a stark increase from the 1.1 million it received in 2014. And then it almost doubled in one year, reaching 18.4 million reports in 2018.

  • Videos are traded, giving more people the incentive to create them. For the most part, transactions appear to be non-commercial. In 2014, 91% of videos analyzed or processed by the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE) were “shared or traded among like-minded criminal individuals at no cost.” Thus, “In order to have the requisite ‘new’ images needed to barter for images in return, a defendant may decide to produce images of his own abuse of a child.”

“This report draws attention to the tremendous growth in the production and dissemination of child sexual abuse material,” Smolenski said. “Because it is illegal to own even a single child sexual abuse image, and many people have never seen the images or heard about the issue, it is difficult for the public to grasp the nature and horror of the crime and the extreme abuse that is depicted. But it is important for there to be public knowledge about the problem if we are to create better policies and practices to protect children.”

The report includes recommendations for all segments of society including: 

The public:

  • Write to your legislator to tell him or her that you are concerned about this new growth of child sexual abuse materials and ask for greater regulation of tech companies.

Policy makers:

  • Federal and state sex offender laws should be strengthened and standardized to keep offenders from falling through the cracks.

  • A federal commission should be appointed to investigate and develop recommendations for how to make the Internet a safe place for children.

The private sector:

  • Robust background screening policies should be in place for anyone who works with children, including those who work as online moderators for tech companies.

  • All computer repair companies and technicians should receive awareness training about how to respond when this material is identified on a computer.

Schools: 

  • Education for parents, educators and youth about online safety should be implemented in every school across the country.

Religious institutions: 

  • Robust background checks should be in place for every person who works at a faith-based institution.

  • Mechanisms should be in place for children to safely report incidents of abuse to a safe and trusted adult.

The media: 

  • Report on the vast scale of child sexual abuse materials and provide details.  

  • Hold institutions responsible for their response or lack of one.

Although the term child pornography is used commonly in official documents and media, ECPAT-USA prefers the term child sexual abuse material. The word pornography refers to material with adult sexual content that in many cases is made and distributed legally, involving individuals who are legally old enough to provide sexual consent. It is ECPAT-USA’s position that the term child pornography does not adequately convey the horror and violence of sexual crimes against children.