What are the characteristics of dark web consumers of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)?
Protect Children is a non-governmental not-for-profit organization that is based out of Finland. They recently published the results of their survey related to the ReDirection Project. The project aims to help consumers of Child Sexual Abuse Materials by providing them an anonymous and self-directed program designed for individuals who view CSAM. The ReDirection Project is the organization’s effort to provide primary prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
In 2020, they had two surveys on their website. The main survey, Help Us Help You, was for individuals who felt they needed some help with their CSAM production. The second survey was for those who felt they did not need help but were consuming CSAM materials. The recently published report is the result of over 8400 responses to the surveys. Survey respondents were all users of the dark web to consume CSAM materials.
The authors provide 6 main bullet point results from the survey.
- A large number of individuals who consumed CSAM materials want to or have tried to stop using it in the past but have been unsuccessful in their attempts to stop.
- 70% of the survey respondents stated that they had first been exposed to CSAM materials before they were 18 years old. Almost 40% were first exposed to CSAM prior to the age of 13.
- Almost half of the respondents (45%) view CSAM materials of girls aged 4 to 13 years old.
- More than half of the survey respondents have feared that their viewing of CSAM materials might lead them to a contact offense with a child.
- Nearly half of the survey respondents have watched actual child abuse on a livestream feed.
- More research is needed. As most research is conducted with individuals who are convicted of CSAM crimes, knowledge from those not arrested can be informative.
Specific Results of the Survey
- 70% of survey respondents first saw CSAM prior to the age of 18. Nearly 40% were under the age of 13.
- 51% first came across CSAM material by accident.
- 43% of survey respondents have been watching CSAM material for 1 to 4 weeks.
- 55% view illegal material occasionally.
- 45% view CSAM of girls between the ages of 4 and 13.
- 50% would like to stop viewing CSAM materials.
- 62% have tried to stop viewing CSAM materials at some point.
- For those who have stopped viewing CSAM, the main motivator was the negative feelings of guilt and shame.
- 45% have seen live streamed CSAM material.
- At some point in their CSAM use, 62% of respondents felt they were unable to control their use.
- 48% did not feel that their CSAM use made them afraid of a contact sexual offense.
- 56% reported that they never thought about direct sexual contact with a child after viewing CSAM.
- 63% of the CSAM users stated that they never sought direct contact with a child with the remainder seeking said contact anywhere from rarely to every time.
- About half the respondents had thought about or attempted suicide or self-harm.
- 58% never thought about telling anyone about their CSAM use.
- 54% of CSAM users stated they never had (29%) or never wanted (25%) contact with other CSAM users.
This study has a number of limitations. First, it is a survey of dark web users. It is possible that the survey results are not generalizable to other populations. Also, inherent in any voluntary survey, there is the possibility that there are characteristics of those willing to take a survey that are different from those individuals who chose not to, again possibly affecting the generalizability of the results.
There are a number of reasons why this is a valuable survey study. First, the authors are correct in that most of our knowledge of individuals who consume CSAM materials comes from people who have been arrested for its possession. Therefore, all data misses a huge segment of people, those who are viewing the material and not getting caught. Additionally, the more we know about the consumers of CSAM, the better able we are to create prevention programs to help decrease the use of CSAM at a primary prevention level.
Insoll, T, Ovaska, A & Vaaranen-Valkonen, N. (2022). CSAM users in the Dark Web. https://protectchildren.fi/2021/09/23/redirection-survey-report/