Online ‘communities’ of child sexual abusers are driving up violence against children

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Online ‘communities’ of child sexual abusers are driving up violence against children

New research by the ReDirection project has revealed a concerning trend – online communities of child sexual abusers are driving up the risks of violence and abuse against children.

The End Violence funded ReDirection project, understaken by Suojellaan Lapsia Ry (Protect Children), aims to prevent online sexual violence against children through research on online crimes of sexual violence and intervention programs for individuals who engage with and distribute images and footage that depict sexual violence against children. Together with Police University College of Finland, ReDirection has published the new report “Darknet Online Communities of Child Sexual Abusers: Reinforcing and Rationalising Offending Behaviour”, which finds that not only are online communities of child sexual abusers driving up risk of child abuse, they are also reinforcing, endorsing and encouraging abusive behaviour among members.

‘Peer-support’ is driving up risks

The new report contains two articles analysing recent data on ‘darknet’ - the less explored domains of the Internet - communities of child sexual abusers. In the first article Tegan Insoll, Project Researcher & Specialist, Protect Children outlines how contact among and between child sexual abuse materials users in these online communities is a risk factor that leads to them directly contacting children. Insoll highlights that having contact with others who use CSAM is making offenders more likely to reach out to and commit further offences against children.

In the other one, Dr. Salla Huikuri, Project Manager & Researcher, Police University College of Finland inquires into the ‘peer-support’ generated in communities of child sexual abusers. Analysing the largest darknet communities of child sexual abusers and examining members’ attempts to refrain from CSAM, Dr. Huikuri highlights that members of online communities rarely question their behaviour in open discussions and if they do so, their peers quickly run to the aid to rationalise it, reinforcing their behaviour.

There is an heightened danger when child sexual abusers gather together in online communities and encourage and endorse each other’s illicit behaviour. Our findings highlight the importance of staging interventions before this point, in order to prevent further risk to children.

Tegan Insoll, Project Researcher & Specialist, Protect Children

Online communities are facilitating contact with fellow offenders and the exchange and trading of child abuse materials, and other discussions to abuse. Such studies on behaviours of offenders, and projects like the End Violence Funded multi-country research on online sexual violence, Disrupting Harm, are valuable in designing systems to prevent people from committing child sexual abuse, online and offline, and for supporting crime prevention and child protection at large.

Read the full report. Learn more about the progress made by the ReDirection project and our other grantees from around the world.