The forms vary from sexting to online grooming for abuse to sexual extortion. Parents should balance access to digital opportunities with protection and empowerment.
Child sex offenders are very manipulative, convincing and persistent in their efforts to exploit children.
They take advantage of the Internet and online tools to access, lure potential victims, produce child sexual abuse materials, upload and disseminate them.
“It is often very difficult for children to understand what is happening to them and how they are being manipulated,” says psychologist Janet Moraa.
Perpetrators thus sexually exploit children through different forms that may include the six listed below:
1. Child sexual abuse material
Child sexual abuse material (CSAM), the preferred term of choice to “child pornography”, refers to the materials depicting acts of sexual abuse or focusing on the genitalia of the child.
It can be used in a broader sense to encompass all other sexualised material depicting children of all ages, boys and girls. They differ in levels of severity of the abuse and acts ranging from children posing sexually to gross assault.
2. Computer/ digitally generated child sexual abuse
It encompasses all forms of material representing children involved in sexual activities. The material does not depict a real child, but rather an artificially created child, using digital tools.
It also includes virtual child pornography.
3. Online grooming for sexual purposes
This means communicating with a child over the Internet with the intention of establishing a relationship in order to facilitate either online or offline sexual contact.
It may include manipulation to take part in different forms of exploitative or abusive sexual activities, such as performing sexual acts in front of a webcam or self-generated sexual materials.
This is when someone intentionally shares sexually explicit messages, images or self-generated sexualised images of themselves often shared with other peers.
There are also many cases of “unwanted sexting” that is the non-consensual aspects of the activity, such as lack of consent in sharing or receiving sexually explicit photos or messages.
5. Sexual extortion
Also called “sextortion”, this is the blackmailing of a child with the help of self generated images of that person in order to extort sexual favors, money or other benefits.
This is usually under the threat of sharing the material beyond the consent of the depicted person including posting images on social media or sending them to family members).
6. Live online child sexual abuse or live streaming of child sexual abuse
Offenders watching the sexual abuse of children online gain access through middle parties. Sometimes these intermediaries are a child’s family member or people from the child’s community, who force or manipulate the child to ‘perform’ in front of a webcam.
An agreement is reached on a time and date when the offender will log in to view the abuse using a platform that supports streaming live content such as Skype.
Appointments can be made using chat messages, email or phone, with both parties agreeing on the price the viewer will pay. Very often, this will be paid in small amounts to avoid suspicion.
Despite the spike in online exploitation, denying children access to the Internet or imposing severe constraints on their time online could not be the solution.
“In essence denying minors access could have a negative impact on children’s right to participation and to information on issues that are important to them,” Unicef said their report on Protecting children from online sexual exploitation.
It is important, therefore, to strike a balance across interventions which protect and empower children while providing opportunities to use digital platforms through well-informed supervision.