People Are Making Money Violently Raping Three-Year-Olds on the Internet. Where is the Outrage? By Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D.

The New York Times recently published an article on the horrific crimes perpetrated against infants, toddlers and children, in which images of their torture and sexual abuse are photographed, videotaped and then sold and spread on the Internet. As a child protection advocate and head of the world’s first child protection agency (The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), I know of the irreparable harm done to these innocent children. I was extremely relieved to see The New York Times’ significant coverage of this issue. It should have caused a riot. Sadly, it did not.

Here are the facts: having sex with children is a crime. You don’t have to be a child protective expert to know that. Taking photos or videos of them as they are sexually abused and tortured, and then selling them through the Internet, is a crime so heinous, most of us cannot comprehend it. Each photo and video online captures a crime against a child in progress. How can we continue to let this happen? Are we numb to taking action against child rape because it pains us to imagine it?

Child sexual abuse exploitation, or in layman’s terms, child pornography, is the fastest growing type of child abuse. The point of this essay is simple: if child sexual abuse online is to be stopped, or even slowed, action needs to be taken immediately — and some of it can be taken now, by you. You will find those actions below.

We can’t keep looking away, even though it is so much easier to do so. It is horrible, and it is necessary for us to confront it.

Actions You Can Take

1. First, funding is needed now to support the law enforcement and investigative efforts fighting this on the front lines. Contact your senator or congressperson and express your outrage about this issue and the need for funding. USA.gov’s website makes it simple to find their information. Once you get them on the line, the key points to make are:

· They need to take action to stop the abuse and torture of children on the Internet. Urge them to fully approve the minimum of $250 million of the authorized funding for the Protect Our Children Act, and to increase it!

· All of the recommendations in the Attorney General’s most recent National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, which details concrete steps to find, prosecute and punish those involved in preying on children must be fully implemented.

o Use the stats from the reports below to bolster the case. Come to the phone call informed and cite the sources.

2. The major social media and tech giants need to do more to protect children — there is a crucial role for all to play in this, from concerned parents all the way to the most influential technology companies. Many are already making headway — for example, last year, Google announced work on a deep neural network to improve detection of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM), Microsoft Germany is working with police to develop an Artificial Intelligence that can identify CSAM, and a collaboration of experts from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter are working to develop a tool to tackle online grooming (more information on this in the Broadband Commission Report, below). These innovations can help the police bring traffickers to justice, accelerate victim identification and reduce investigation time. Reach out to these most influential players, such as Microsoft, Twitter, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Snapchat, urge them to continue, and to increase their commitment to stopping child sexual abuse and torture on the Internet. The easiest way is through their social profiles, with links to either Facebook or Twitter pages listed below:

· Microsoft

· Twitter

· Google

· Facebook

· Snapchat (Snap Inc.)

· Instagram

· Amazon

3. Finally, there is strength in numbers. Pass these action steps along to five of your friends today. Better yet, post them to your social profiles to let your larger networks in on this issue.

The Reports

There are two “must reads” for all who are trying to protect children from child sexual abuse exploitation. These will help inform your argument when you call your representative’s office to demand change.

1. The aforementioned New York Times interactive article, “Child Sexual Abuse on the Internet: Stolen Innocence Gone Viral” — the one that should have started a riot. The article describes the exponential growth of these heinous crimes, hidden on the darknet, which makes tracing the producers and buyers extremely difficult. The investigative and law enforcement systems assigned to these crucial tasks are at their breaking point. The annual funding needed for investigations — that could lead to rescuing children — is vastly inadequate. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, whose hotline is a “go to” number for reporting suspected crimes, needs more tech support and funding too. Throughout this article, attention is rightly called to the hurdles facing the action needed to make change. Until then, as the article states, it will be easy to purchase “real hard-core (porn) with three-year olds.”

2. The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development Child Online Safety Report. This addresses a wide range of risks and harms associated with the Internet, including: child sexual abuse exploitation, cyberbullying, the online radicalization of children and economic exploitation. This workgroup is dedicated to addressing child online safety as a global issue. The membership included senior representatives from the United Nations, corporations such as Microsoft and Facebook, non-profits such as the World Childhood Foundation, and other private and public agencies. It posits recommendations to minimize threats to children, as well as the benefits that expansion of broadband will provide for children in developing countries. Their focus on child sexual abuse exploitation, the emphasis of this piece, produced chilling statistics:

· In just one year, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) found more than 105,000 websites hosting child sexual abuse material.

· Almost 40 percent of the victims were younger than 10 years old.

· 23% of all online child sexual abuse material in 2018 was of the severest kind, including images of tape and torture of children.

The problem is clearly still growing exponentially. Some additional devastating figures:

· According to the World Health Foundation, every year 200 million children are sexually abused, and increasingly, much of this is taking place online, or is captured and digitally distributed.

· In the first six months of 2019, IWF received over 22,000 reports regarding self-generated content, where children, the majority girls between the ages of 11 to 13, were groomed or coerced into performing sexual acts for viewers watching via a webcam. Abusers record the video and share it online.

· In 2018, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline received over 18.4 million reports.

These children deserve the riot. They deserve to be able to be kids. Pick up the phone, and make the call. Make the difference, for them.

Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D.

Written by

Executive Director, The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

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