Online child sexual exploitation is a crime committed by offenders who use information and communication technologies (ICT) and/or the Internet to exploit children.
The expansion of ICTs has made of the online child sexual exploitation a growing phenomenon. New technologies are now an integral part of children’ lives and play a key role in their social and educational development.
These new tools require a responsible learning, especially since children are particularly vulnerable in this environment where reality and virtual mix. Thus, it is important to remember that despite the “virtual” nature of the acts committed, real children are behind the screens and are potentially victims of exploitation; not only at a “T” moment but over a much longer time since the images can be shared ad infinitum: this is what we call “secondary victimization”.
Online child sexual exploitation remains a very generic category of sexual exploitation, composed of distinct forms of sexual exploitation. It is not exhaustive but includes sexting, sexualized images of children as well as materials of child sexual abuse/exploitation, grooming or live streaming.
Materials of child sexual abuse/exploitation
The term materials of child sexual abuse/exploitation is still underused as explained in the Terminology guidelines for the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. It now tends to replace the references made to “child pornography” or “cyber child pornography”; in order not to associate the terms “pornography” and “child”.
Pornography is used to talk about sexual activities between consenting adults for the purpose of sexual pleasure. But, sexually exploiting or abusing a child could never be associated to this notion. This could even lead (even unconsciously) to legitimize the unlawful act, to imply that the child may be consenting or to minimize what the child has suffered. By choosing to speak of “materials of child sexual abuse/exploitation”, we place the act of abuse/exploitation at the center of the sentence.
The term “child pornography” is still used, especially in a legal context.
Grooming is used to talk about the sollicitation of children for sexual purposes. In the online environment, it means that an offender will get in contact with a child in order to obtain sexual favors from him (via a webcam for instance) or in order to meet him/her offline to abuse him/her sexually.
Live streaming is the live transmission of child sexual abuses, usually via a streaming platform (such as Skype) which allows the offender to participate in the act when it occurs.
These are crimes on children difficult to identify and prosecute because if the abuser does not record the abuse, no trace is found.