As we adhere to stay-at-home orders, I would like to provide a child’s voice and perspective on the darker side of the internet to bring heightened attention and change to this critical topic. The proliferation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and online predators impacts all of us – especially young children who now more than ever have access to digital technology pushed onto us by our schools and families.
When I researched the statistics of child abuse, I learned that:
More than 60% of unidentified victims were prepubescent, including infants and toddlers.
39% of teens have sent sexually suggestive emails, texts, or posts.
20% of teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos.90% of children aged 8-16 have seen online pornography.
Approx. 70% of sex offenders released from prison will offend again.
Before, I did not think much of it. After seeing these somber statistics, I understand that this is a severe problem. Nonetheless, the severity is muffled by the fact that 85% of parents are blissfully unaware of the dangers presented by the internet. During the Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s decision to switch to online schooling, many more children may become exposed to the dark underworld of CSAM.
I understand that millions of children all around the world are suffering from abuse, and that even more have accidentally encountered CSAM on the internet, especially while keying in innocent search terms for homework assignments. Despite the magnitude of this issue, the majority of families are oblivious to the risks that the dark web poses to children and teenagers alike. Not only that, as the world continues to battle against the Covid-19 pandemic and students resort to remote learning, the risk of encountering online predators and online exploitation imagery increases at an extremely alarming rate. I believe that every child should be given a childhood where they can just be kids; not abused and threatened but nurtured and loved. Therefore, I believe that authorities such as policymakers and tech companies, law enforcement groups, and the government need to take larger steps to eradicate CSAM from the internet.
All my friends are surrounded with technology that acts like a double-edged sword: it has the potential to help us learn and grow, but also to expose to us CSAM and sexual solicitation on the dark web. One of my friends has had an encounter with a supposed “7-year-old boy” who asked to meet her and be her boyfriend. When she refused, he began pestering her to meet up, and sent a photo of a boy crying in a bathroom. This situation is one of many that are happening everywhere and all the time. It is imperative that our society takes further steps to prevent our future generations from encountering CSAM or being exploited on the internet.
I firmly believe that children have an important role to play and can make a difference. I hope you will join me to learn more about CSAM and how we can activate a generation that is living, surviving and coping during this pandemic.