Written by Kim Berg, a USC student in the World Bachelor of Business Program (taken from her final thesis), with Dr. Mellissa Withers as her supervising faculty.
Self-generated child sexual abuse material (SG-CSAM) refers to explicit imagery of a child that seems to have been taken by the child in the image. This type of content is commonly referred to as “sexting” or “sending nudes.” Unfortunately, this material is often coercive, and shared without consent. Since the images or videos are of minors, it is considered to be child sexual abuse, whether or not it was self-generated.
Taking nudes and sharing them is not uncommon among children in the 21st century. In a survey of 1,000 kids aged 9-17, almost 20% of girls and 10% of boys aged 13-17 had shared their “nudes” with someone else. And almost 40% agreed that it is normal for people their age to share nudes with one another. Photo-sharing apps like VSCO, Instagram, Reddit, and Tumblr have transformed into platforms where children share sexually explicit photos. But 20% of children aged 9-17 have seen non-consensually re-shared SG-CSAM themselves, and 38% say they have school peers who have had their nudes shared or leaked without their permission.
Sextortion is a threat to expose or distribute sexual images or videos of someone. Revenge pornography is closely linked, exposing or distributing sexual images or videos in order to “get revenge.” Both of these crimes are classified as non-consensual pornography (NCP), even if the victim was the one self-generating it in the first place. Sextortion is especially concerning because criminals do not ever need to meet the children in real life to exploit them. Unfortunately, the victims of sextortion are mostly children; 25% of victims were 13 or younger when they were first threatened and over two-thirds of sextortion victims were girls that were threatened before the age of 16. For crimes like sextortion, the first contact by an offender is usually made by a social media friend request. Victims are targeted on platforms that they use frequently, and just under half of sextortion victims received daily threats online from their abusers via online platforms. Even when the victims block offenders, they can create new account or other ways to contact the victim. Children feel so trapped by offenders that they feel there is nothing they can do but comply with their demands. In fact, 62% of victims complied with the abuser’s commands, hoping that the threats would stop—however, almost 70% of victims reported threats becoming even more frequent after they complied with demands. And one in three victims interviewed never told anyone about their abuse because of shame.
Camming, Live-Streaming, and Child Sex Tourism
Camming (or “live-streaming”) is rising due to increased global internet access and the increase of cheaper devices driving mobile penetration rate in developing countries. The FBI estimates there are 750,000 men seeking live-streamed online sex with children at any given moment. The offenders either passively or actively watch, asking children to undress, perform sexual acts on themselves and/or others, and follow other instructions. Live-streaming is a form of child sex tourism. While child sex tourism historically has been hampered by barriers such as time, travel expenses, and international regulations, the rise of chat rooms for people to exchange information about where to find child victims abroad and the increased use of camming services has expanded this crime. Offenders have the luxury of anonymity through the use of avatars and fake names, and the ability to pay through nearly untraceable online currencies and cryptocurrencies. This new digital technology has made it much easier for offenders to prey on children anywhere in the world with the click of a button.
Seeking Arrangements (and Other “Sugar-Baby” Websites)
The unequal power dynamic, financial focus, and isolation associated with “sugar-dating” makes it a prime opportunity for a trafficking situation. Seeking Arrangements is the most popular “sugar dating” platforms, specifically targeting young, college-aged women with financial need and offering to match them with rich, older men. In 2020, Seeking Arrangements reported a 74% increase in members in one year. The site specifically markets to young college girls by offering free premium accounts for users who sign up with a “.edu” email address. There’s even a specific “Sugar Baby University” website. There are numerous examples of underage girls being exploited through Seeking Arrangements and similar sites. In Finland, police are investigating the rape of a 17-year-old girl linked to “sugar-dating.” From 2017-2020, a 46-year old man used a “sugar daddy” website and dating app to find, meet, and exploit underage girls.
OnlyFans is advertised as a social media network allowing content creators to monetize private content that they want to share, however now it has become a full-fledged sexual material marketplace with over half of its creators producing “adult material.” OnlyFans began in 2016 and has now amassed over 1 million “creators” and 70 million registered users. It was the 92nd most visited website in the US and the 170th most visited website in the world in December 2020. Although many consensual sex workers praise OnlyFans for allowing them to have full control over their content, OnlyFans has minimal verification to create an account as a creator. Users must provide a form of identification proving that they are over 18. However, this verification process is required in order to accept payment, not to open an account. And there are numerous testimonials of underage girls who were able to open and open OnlyFans accounts for years without getting caught, using the ID of an older friend, family member, or stranger.
In addition, creators can set a subscription price for their content from $4.99-$49.99 per month, and also charge extra money for personalized interactions, private messages, private chat rooms, streaming, or other similar interactions. OnlyFans also has a commission structure which encourages grooming and pimping, allowing individuals to profit 5% off of anyone’s earnings who signs up via their referral link for the first year of their account. This incentive system encourages users to recruit as many girls as possible to the platform and control their usage to ensure high profits. The content may even be shared and sold to a third-party source. And, shockingly, OnlyFans markets to children on popular social media platforms, like TikTok.
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