Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) is a devastating and complex issue that damages real children and families. It’s often also referred to as child pornography, but this can be misleading. In reality, CSAM is any material, such as livestreams or images, that portrays sexual violence against a child. Yet, some content may be explicit while others might not even include any actual sexual activity or violence at all.
While the fact that CSAM damages the child survivors is perhaps obvious, its actual consequences are more manifold than you can imagine. This is particularly the case when it concerns recorded footage and online images. Not only do the children have to undergo the initial, physical abuse, they also have to relive their trauma every time their violation is distributed online. They live with the knowledge that proof of their abuse exists and the long-term impact of this can be crippling. As we know, once something is online, there is almost no way of erasing it. Indeed, every time someone views or distributes such material, whether it’s online or in real life, they’re re-victimising the child and once again removing their autonomy.
Because of the damaging consequences CSAM brings, it’s crucial to remove all instances of such material and implement preventative measures against its usage and distribution. One organisation working towards this goal is Protect Children. They’re a Finnish non-governmental organisation working globally to prevent sexual violence against children. Through their efforts, they not only teach children digital safety skills and conduct vital research in the field, but have also developed the rehabilitative ReDirection Self-Help Program for anonymous users of CSAM. By doing so, they treat the issue as a public health problem and try to target the problem at its root, namely the actual offender.
So why is CSAM a gendered issue? We can divide the answer into two segments with the help of Protect Children’s 2021 ReDirection Survey Report. The first part of the answer can be found when looking at the actual victims. Protect Children recently conducted a survey to understand what kind of material is in demand. Their latest statistics (as of April 6, 2022) reveal certain stark differences. These show that 43% of offenders view material related to girls between the ages of 4 and 13 whereas only 19% view material depicting boys between 4 and 13. This is a clear indication that the majority of CSAM victims are girls.
However, this statistic isn’t the only gendered difference in CSAM. While the majority of victims seem to be girls, boys tend to suffer more violent abuse at the hands of their offenders. The sexual violence they’re forced through is frequently more violent and egregious than the abuse experienced by girls. Also, the boy victims of CSAM are, on average, younger than the girl victims and they’re more likely to have not yet reached puberty. Of course, gendered dynamics can also be found regarding the offenders but we have chosen to focus solely on the survivors in this entry.
The fact is, CSAM is a widespread crime that puts all children, regardless of their gender identity, at risk. The damage it causes is atrocious and can last a lifetime. This is why it’s so important to continue calling attention to this issue and supporting research efforts into the topic. Hopefully, by providing specialised care for victims, carrying out prevention work, and teaching digital safety skills, we can work towards creating an environment that’s safe for our children.