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Increasing the Efficacy of Investigations of Online Child Sexual Exploitation: Report to Congress

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2022
164 pages

After reviewing the prevalence, threats, and challenges of countering child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the internet, this report suggests ways to better counter this threat to children.



Nothing in history has transformed the character and practice of child sexual exploitation more than the internet. Individuals who commit child sex crimes through internet services, use social networks and mobile apps to meet minors and each other in ways they cannot make contact in person and to groom victims by normalizing abusive sexual acts. For victims, abuse begins with the harm perpetrated against them, but it does not end when the abuse stops. Victims must relive abuse when being interviewed by rescuing investigators and in court proceedings. There is no simple method for reliably targeting and finding the most dangerous individuals at the start of an investigation; however, online child sexual exploitation is a public health crisis and should be addressed as such. Online sex crimes against children can be described using a simple epidemiological model. Children are being harmed by individuals who sexually exploit them, and the internet is an environment that brings the two together. The model illuminates three broad strategies for addressing this crisis: 1) helping investigators stop those committing the crimes; 2) educating children and parents about how to avoid dangerous individuals; and 3) changing the environment to thwart exploitation. Improving the tools available to investigators to stop online child sex crimes and to rescue children from abuse is only one strategy and too often the focus. It is also necessary to examine how internet services, apps, app stores, and device makers who have children as customers operate and are regulated. Child sexual abuse happens on every internet platform, and each platform presents a challenge for investigators. For each known venue, investigators require methods to enumerate all those in the venue who are committing crimes against children and to locate venue victims.

Date Published: May 1, 2022