One of my favorite Foundations ever, the Internet Watch Foundation has partnered with Microsoft in conducting a new research that analyzed a little over 3000 images over three months last autumn, the findings highlight a percentage of photos and videos showing children thought to be under the age of 10 in a sexualized manner/setting or what I all Self Produced Sexual Content. What? How? Why? Beats me.
Here is what the internet watch foundation basically did, they conducted a study spanning three months between September and November 2014 and used a combination of proactively sourced content from search engines, historic IWF data and leads from public reports to find what they named “youth-produced sexual content” that depicted or showed “young people”.
With the help of Microsoft, 3,803 images and videos were assessed and of these photos, 667 featured children under the age of 15 in a sexualized manner and of those 667 photos, 286 showed children thought to be under the age of 10.
Before we break down and become angry at the world let’s look at the key findings of this research:
- 17.5% of this visual content depicted children aged 15 years or younger.
- 85.9% of content depicting children aged 15 or younger was created using a webcam.
- 93.1% of the content depicting children aged 15 or younger featured girls.
- 46.9% of content depicting children aged 15 years or younger was Category A or B compared to 27.6% of content in the 16-20 years age range. (Category A is images involving penetrative sexual activity; images involving sexual activity with an animal or sadism. Category B is images involving non-penetrative sexual activity), Yikes!
- 89.9% of the total images and videos assessed as part of the Study had been harvested from the original upload location and were being redistributed on third party websites (child pornography websites, forums and some social media networks come to mind).
The research mentions several case studies such as Girl A (warning: graphic content follows)
“Girl A is approximately seven years of age. Heavily made up and dressed in underwear, she is lying on her bed and talking via a webcam to an unseen subscriber to her user profile on a particular live video social networking site. This site provides users with a real time ranking of their “popularity” on the site based on the number of subscribers, likes, comments and/or “rewards” they receive from subscribers to their feed.
A TV plays in the background and when Girl A moves the laptop around as she talks, various distinctive features in the bedroom are clearly visible. Girl A then states “This is just for boys, I’m not going to do all that stuff you requested but I will show you it” before standing and adjusting the angle of the laptop to expose her genitals to the webcam. Leaning close to the camera she whispers that “Mum might see it and get worried and you know, like, delete my account.”
Another Case Study is of Girl B, she is almost 12 years of age. Using a laptop in her bedroom and en-suite bathroom she is seen speaking to an unknown individual via live video stream. She reveals a vast amount of personal information about herself including her name, location and family life. The videos are extremely sexually explicit and are considered Category B.
The one that struck me as scary was the video of Girl C, almost 10 years old, she is in her own bedroom communicating via a webcam with an unknown individual. The video shows her crying and clearly extremely distressed – she repeatedly shakes her head at what the unknown individual is saying or requesting of her, before eventually stripping naked and exposing her genitals to the camera.
IWF notes that “comments made in relation to this video on the site on which it had been posted say this video is an example of a “sextortion” video, whereby a child is blackmailed on the basis of sexual content they have shared with the blackmailer. If the child refuses to create more, the blackmailer will distribute the original content publicly”
The report continues “The finding that 667 of the images and videos assessed depicted children aged 15 years and younger, with 286 of these depicting children assessed as being 10 years and younger indicates a disturbing trend for younger children to be producing sexually explicit content which is being distributed online.
“Of particular concern is that the young people depicted took no steps to conceal their identity or location, even in many cases using their real name.”
I believe we were so focused on sexting (the use of mobile phones to capture sexually suggestive photos or videos to send to a significant other or a crush or even on a dare) that we forgot the hidden danger of each and every laptop or home computer being equipped with a camera and an internet connection.
Nine out of 10 of the explicit videos and images were created using a webcam, usually on a home computer, which the study said challenged the traditional view of such content being produced on mobile phones.
Susie Hargreaves, IWF chief executive, said to the Telegraph “We’ve observed children doing this often from a bedroom or bathroom… Others we noted were upset and distressed at what they were being asked to do.”
In the same article by The Telegraph, Claire Lilley, head of child online safety at the NSPCC said:
“Many of them (children in these videos and photos) are primary school age and are being forced to commit acts which are at the most serious end of sexual abuse… It’s apparent some are being ‘directed’ to do things they find extremely distressing by strangers sitting at the other end of a webcam who will then no doubt pass on the material.”
Why should we worry as parents and educators about sexual content?
Here is why I am scared, children are flooded with sexualized images and scenes all day long all year round whether online or on TV. The fear here is that children are left alone with a computer, thinking the worst thing they can do is what, play games, surf the web? Not True, more children everyday are falling into the trap of talking to strangers, forming relationships built on perceived trust (online grooming) and maybe become emotionally coerced or even convinced to share photos or videos of themselves in sexually suggestive scenarios. Some of today’s children are sadly becoming a sex offender’s dream.
So what should you do about Sexual Content?
Worry, I recommend worrying.
No Seriously, when was the last time you actually sat down with the little ones and explain the world to them instead of brushing them off and leaving them to their TV or computer?
Talk to them, explain that the internet world, while lots fun, can be filled with bad people. Tell them not to share any personal information about them or their parents or schools with anyone they meet online. Allow them to come to you for questions, worries or fears instead of trusting strangers or peers who know nothing about life yet.
Be your children’s best friend, no need to be the super cool mom or dad, just be their friend, explain to them that you will always love them and never second guess them and that whatever it is they are going through, you will always be all ears for them.
Maybe explain the idea of a digital footprint, that once anything is online, it is online forever and that something they did at a night of stupidity might come back to haunt them later on.
Sex offenders and predators are out there and since you can’t lock your child up for fearing their safety, you can always educate them to make better choices and protect themselves, after all, that is your job as a parent.
Author: Radwa Rashad, Executive Editor of NoBullying.com, has been working on cyber safety, bullying awareness and women rights since receiving her BSc in English and Women Studies. An Editor and Writer by profession. She is passionate about all things tech and all things human. You can reach her for by commenting below. She always replies!