The Internet Is Overrun With Images of Child Sexual Abuse.
What Went Wrong?
Online predators create and share illegal material, which is increasingly cloaked by technology.
Tech companies, the government and the authorities are no match.
The images are horrific. Children, some just 3 or 4 years old, being sexually abused and in some cases tortured.
Pictures of child sexual abuse have long been produced and shared to satisfy twisted adult obsessions. But it has never been like this: Technology companies reported a record 45 million online photos and videos of the abuse last year.
More than a decade ago, when the reported number was less than a million, the proliferation of the explicit imagery had already reached a crisis point. Tech companies, law enforcement agencies, and legislators in Washington responded, committing to new measures meant to rein in the scourge. Landmark legislation passed in 2008.
Yet the explosion in detected content kept growing — exponentially.
Articles in this series examine the explosion in online photos and videos of children being sexually abused. They include graphic descriptions of some instances of the abuse.
An investigation by The New York Times found an insatiable criminal underworld that had exploited the flawed and insufficient efforts to contain it. As with hate speech and terrorist propaganda, many tech companies failed to adequately police sexual abuse imagery on their platforms or failed to cooperate sufficiently with the authorities when they found it.
Law enforcement agencies devoted to the problem were left understaffed and underfunded, even as they were asked to handle far larger caseloads.
The Justice Department, given a major role by Congress, neglected even to write mandatory monitoring reports, nor did it appoint a senior executive-level official to lead a crackdown. And the group tasked with serving as a federal clearinghouse for the imagery — the go-between for the tech companies and the authorities — was ill-equipped for the expanding demands.
A paper recently published in conjunction with that group, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, described a system at “a breaking point,” with reports of abusive images “exceeding the capabilities of independent clearinghouses and law enforcement to take action.” It suggested that future advancements in machine learning might be the only way to catch up with the criminals.
In 1998, there were over 3,000 reports of child sexual abuse imagery.
Just over a decade later, yearly reports soared past 100,000.
In 2014, that number surpassed 1 million for the first time.
Last year, there were 18.4 million, more than one-third of the total ever reported.
Those reports included over 45 million images and videos flagged as child sexual abuse.
By Rich Harris | Source: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
The Times reviewed over 10,000 pages of police and court documents; conducted software tests to assess the availability of the imagery through search engines; accompanied detectives on raids; and spoke with investigators, lawmakers, tech executives, and government officials. The reporting included conversations with an admitted pedophile who concealed his identity using encryption software and who runs a site that has hosted as many as 17,000 such images.
In interviews, victims across the United States described in heart-wrenching detail how their lives had been upended by the abuse. Children, raped by relatives and strangers alike, being told it was normal. Adults, now years removed from their abuse, still living in fear of being recognized from photos and videos on the internet. And parents of the abused, struggling to cope with the guilt of not having prevented it and their powerlessness over stopping its online spread.
Many of the survivors and their families said their view of humanity had been inextricably changed by the crimes themselves and the online demand for images of them.
“I don’t really know how to deal with it,” said one woman who, at age 11, had been filmed being sexually assaulted by her father. “You’re just trying to feel O.K. and not let something like this define your whole life. But the thing with the pictures is — that’s the thing that keeps this alive.”
The Times’s reporting revealed a problem global in scope — most of the images found last year were traced to other countries — but one firmly rooted in the United States because of the central role Silicon Valley has played in facilitating the imagery’s spread and in reporting it to the authorities.
While the material, commonly known as child pornography, predates the digital era, smartphone cameras, social media and cloud storage have allowed the images to multiply at an alarming rate. Both recirculated and new images occupy all corners of the internet, including a range of platforms as diverse as Facebook Messenger, Microsoft’s Bing search engine, and the storage service Dropbox.
In a particularly disturbing trend, online groups are devoting themselves to sharing images of younger children and more extreme forms of abuse. The groups use encrypted technologies and the dark web, the vast underbelly of the internet, to teach pedophiles how to carry out the crimes and how to record and share images of the abuse worldwide. In some online forums, children are forced to hold up signs with the name of the group or other identifying information to prove the images are fresh.
With so many reports of the abuse coming their way, law enforcement agencies across the country said they were often besieged. Some have managed their online workload by focusing on imagery depicting the youngest victims.
“We go home and think, ‘Good grief, the fact that we have to prioritize by age is just really disturbing,’” said Detective Paula Meares, who has investigated child sex crimes for more than 10 years at the Los Angeles Police Department.
In some sense, increased detection of the spiraling problem is a sign of progress. Tech companies are legally required to report images of child abuse only when they discover them; they are not required to look for them.
After years of uneven monitoring of the material, several major tech companies, including Facebook and Google, stepped up surveillance of their platforms. In interviews, executives with some companies pointed to the voluntary monitoring and the spike in reports as indications of their commitment to addressing the problem.
But police records and emails, as well as interviews with nearly three dozen local, state, and federal law enforcement officials, show that some tech companies still fall short. It can take weeks or months for them to respond to questions from the authorities if they respond at all. Sometimes they respond only to say they have no records, even for reports they initiated.
And when tech companies cooperate fully, encryption and anonymization can create digital hiding places for perpetrators. Facebook announced in March plans to encrypt Messenger, which last year was responsible for nearly 12 million of the 18.4 million worldwide reports of child sexual abuse material, according to people familiar with the reports. Reports to the authorities typically contain more than one image, and last year encompassed the record 45 million photos and videos, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
All the while, criminals continue to trade and stockpile caches of the material.
The law Congress passed in 2008 foresaw many of today’s problems, but The Times found that the federal government had not fulfilled major aspects of the legislation.
The Justice Department has produced just two of six required reports that are meant to compile data about internet crimes against children and set goals to eliminate them, and there has been a constant churn of short-term appointees leading the department’s efforts. The first person to hold the position, Francey Hakes, said it was clear from the outset that no one “felt like the position was as important as it was written by Congress to be.”
The federal government has also not lived up to the law’s funding goals, severely crippling efforts to stamp out the activity.
Congress has regularly allocated about half of the $60 million in yearly funding for state and local law enforcement efforts. Separately, the Department of Homeland Security this year diverted nearly $6 million from its cybercrimes units to immigration enforcement — depleting 40 percent of the units’ discretionary budget until the final month of the fiscal year.
Alicia Kozakiewicz, who was abducted by a man she had met on the internet when she was 13, said the lack of follow-through was disheartening. Now an advocate for laws preventing crimes against children, she had testified in support of the 2008 legislation.
“I remember looking around the room, and there wasn’t a dry eye,” said Ms. Kozakiewicz, 31, who had told of being chained, raped and beaten while her kidnapper live-streamed the abuse on the internet. “The federal bill passed, but it wasn’t funded. So it didn’t mean anything.”
Further impairing the federal response are shortcomings at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which reviews reports it receives and then distributes them to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as international partners.
The nonprofit center has relied in large measure on 20-year-old technology, has difficulty keeping experienced engineers on staff, and, by its own reckoning, regards stopping the online distribution of photos and videos secondary to rescuing children.
“To be honest, it’s a resource and volume issue,” said John Shehan, a vice president at the center, which was established 35 years ago to track missing children. “First priority is making sure we’re assessing the risk of the children. We’re getting this information into the hands of law enforcement.”
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida who was an author of the 2008 law, said in an interview that she was unaware of the extent of the federal government’s failures. After being briefed on The Times’s findings, she sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting an accounting.
Stacie B. Harris, the Justice Department’s coordinator over the past year for combating child exploitation, said the problem was systemic, extending well beyond the department and her tenure there. “We are trying to play catch-up because we know that this is a huge, huge problem,” said Ms. Harris, an associate deputy attorney general.
The fallout for law enforcement, in some instances, has been crushing.
When reviewing tips from the national center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has narrowed its focus to images of infants and toddlers. And about one of every 10 agents in Homeland Security’s investigative section — which deals with all kinds of threats, including terrorism — is now assigned to child sexual exploitation cases.
“We could double our numbers and still be getting crushed,” said Jonathan Hendrix, a Homeland Security agent who investigates cases in Nashville.
The Cutting Edge
The videos found on the computer of an Ohio man were described by investigators as among “the most gruesome and violent images of child pornography.”
One showed a woman orally forcing herself on a girl who was then held upside down by the ankles in a bathroom while “another child urinates” on her face, according to court documents.
Another showed a woman “inserting an ice cube into the vagina” of a young girl, the documents said, before tying her ankles together, taping her mouth shut, and suspending her upside down. As the video continued, the girl was beaten, slapped, and burned with a match or candle.
“The predominant sound is the child screaming and crying,” according to a federal agent quoted in the documents.
The videos were stored in a hidden computer file and had also been encrypted, one common way abusive imagery has been able to race across the internet with impunity.
Increasingly, criminals are using advanced technologies like encryption to stay ahead of the police. In this case, the Ohio man, who helped run a website on the dark web known as the Love Zone, had over 3 million photos and videos on his computers.
The site, now shuttered, had nearly 30,000 members and required them to share images of abuse to maintain good standing, according to the court documents. A private section of the forum was available only to members who shared imagery of children they abused themselves. They were known as “producers.”
Multiple police investigations over the past few years have broken up enormous dark web forums, including one known as Child’s Play that was reported to have had over a million user accounts.
The highly skilled perpetrators often taunt the authorities with their technical skills, acting boldly because they feel protected by the cover of darkness.
“People who traffic in child exploitation materials are on the cutting edge of technology,” said Susan Hennessey, a former lawyer at the National Security Agency who researches cybersecurity at the Brookings Institution.
Offenders can cover their tracks by connecting to virtual private networks, which mask their locations; deploying encryption techniques, which can hide their messages and make their hard drives impenetrable; and posting on the dark web, which is inaccessible to conventional browsers.
The anonymity offered by the sites emboldens members to post images of very young children being sexually abused, and in increasingly extreme and violent forms.
“Historically, you would never have gone to a black market shop and asked, ‘I want real hard-core with 3-year-olds,’” said Yolanda Lippert, a prosecutor in Cook County, Ill., who leads a team investigating online child abuse. “But now you can sit seemingly secure on your device searching for this stuff, trading for it.”
Exhibits in the case of the Love Zone, sealed by the court but released by a judge after a request by The Times, include screenshots showing the forum had dedicated areas where users discussed ways to remain “safe” while posting and downloading the imagery. Tips included tutorials on how to encrypt and share material without being detected by the authorities.
The offender in Ohio, a site administrator named Jason Gmoser, “went to great lengths to hide” his conduct, according to the documents. Testimony in his criminal case revealed that it would have taken the authorities “trillions of years” to crack the 41-character password he had used to encrypt the site. He eventually turned it over to investigators, and was sentenced to life in prison in 2016.
The site was run by a number of men, including Brian Davis, a worker at a child day care center in Illinois who admitted to documenting abuse of his own godson and more than a dozen other children — aged 3 months to 8 years — and sharing images of the assaults with other members. Mr. Davis made over 400 posts on the site. One image showed him orally raping a 2-year-old; another depicted a man raping an infant’s anus.
Mr. Davis, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2016, said that “capturing the abuse on video was part of the excitement,” according to court records.
Some of his victims attended the court proceedings and submitted statements about their continuing struggles with the abuse.
‘Truly Terrible Things’
The surge in criminal activity on the dark web accounted for only a fraction of the 18.4 million reports of abuse last year. That number originates almost entirely with tech companies based in the United States.
The companies have known for years that their platforms were being co-opted by predators, but many of them essentially looked the other way, according to interviews and emails detailing the companies’ activities. And while many companies have made recent progress in identifying the material, they were slow to respond.
Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor in cybercrime and child exploitation cases, said it was clear more than two decades ago that new technologies had created the biggest boon for pedophiles since the Polaroid camera.
The recent surge by tech companies in filing reports of online abuse “wouldn’t exist if they did their job then,” said Mr. Nigam, who now runs a cybersecurity consulting firm and previously held top security roles at Microsoft, Myspace and News Corporation.
Hany Farid, who worked with Microsoft to develop technology in 2009 for detecting child sexual abuse material, said tech companies had been reluctant for years to dig too deeply.
“The companies knew the house was full of roaches, and they were scared to turn the lights on,” he said. “And then when they did turn the lights on, it was worse than they thought.”
Federal law requires companies to preserve material about their reports of abuse imagery for 90 days. But given the overwhelming number of reports, it is not uncommon for requests from the authorities to reach companies too late.
“That’s a huge issue for us,” said Capt. Mike Edwards, a Seattle police commander who oversees a cybercrimes unit for the State of Washington. “You’ve got a short period of time to be able to get the data if it was preserved.”
Most tech companies have been quick to respond to urgent inquiries, but responses in other cases vary significantly. In interviews, law enforcement officials pointed to Tumblr, a blogging and social networking site with 470 million users, as one of the most problematic companies.
A recent investigation in Polk County, Wis., that included an image of a man orally raping a young child stalled for over a year. The investigator retired before Tumblr responded to numerous emails requesting information.
In a 2016 Wisconsin case, Tumblr alerted a person who had uploaded explicit images that the account had been referred to the authorities, a practice that a former employee told The Times had been common for years. The tip allowed the man to destroy evidence on his electronic devices, the police said.
A spokeswoman for Verizon said that Tumblr prioritized time-sensitive cases, which delayed other responses. Since Verizon acquired the company in 2017, the spokeswoman said, its practice was not to alert users of police requests for data. Verizon recently sold Tumblr to the web development company Automattic.
The law enforcement officials also pointed to problems with Microsoft’s Bing search engine, and Snap, the parent company of the social network Snapchat.
Bing was said to regularly submit reports that lacked essential information, making investigations difficult, if not impossible. Snapchat, a platform especially popular with young people, is engineered to delete most of its content within a short period of time. According to law enforcement, when requests are made to the company, Snap often replies that it has no additional information.
A Microsoft spokesman said that the company had only limited information about offenders using the search engine, and that it was cooperating as best as it could. A Snap spokesman said the company preserved data in compliance with the law.
Data obtained through a public records request suggests Facebook’s plans to encrypt Messenger in the coming years will lead to vast numbers of images of child abuse going undetected. The data shows that WhatsApp, the company’s encrypted messaging app, submits only a small fraction of the reports Messenger does.
Facebook has long known about abusive images on its platforms, including a video of a man sexually assaulting a 6-year-old that went viral last year on Messenger. When Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, announced in March that Messenger would move to encryption, he acknowledged the risk it presented for “truly terrible things like child exploitation.”
“Encryption is a powerful tool for privacy,” he said, “but that includes the privacy of people doing bad things.”
“In a recent case, an offender filmed himself drugging the juice boxes of neighborhood children before tricking them into drinking the mix,” said Special Agent Flint Waters, a criminal investigator for the State of Wyoming. “He then filmed himself as he sexually abused unconscious children.”
Mr. Waters, appearing before Congress in Washington, was describing what he said “we see every day.”
He went on to present a map of the United States covered with red dots, each representing a computer used to share images of child sex abuse. Fewer than two percent of the crimes would be investigated, he predicted. “We are overwhelmed, we are underfunded and we are drowning in the tidal wave of tragedy,” he said.
The following year, Congress passed legislation that acknowledged the severity of the crisis. But then the federal government largely moved on. Some of the strongest provisions of the law were not fulfilled, and many problems went unfixed, according to interviews and government documents.
Today, Mr. Waters’s testimony offers a haunting reminder of time lost.
Annual funding for state and regional investigations was authorized at $60 million, but only about half of that is regularly approved. It has increased only slightly from 10 years ago when accounting for inflation. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut who was a sponsor of the law’s reauthorization, said there was “no adequate or logical explanation and no excuse” for why more money was not allocated. Even $60 million a year, he said, would now be “vastly inadequate.”
Another cornerstone of the law, the biennial strategy reports by the Justice Department, was mostly ignored. Even the most recent of the two reports that were published, in 2010 and 2016, did not include data about some of the most pressing concerns, such as the trade-in illicit imagery.
The Justice Department’s coordinator for child exploitation prevention, Ms. Harris, said she could not explain the poor record. A spokeswoman for the department, citing limited resources, said the reports would now be written every four years beginning in 2020.
When the law was reauthorized in 2012, the coordinator role was supposed to be elevated to a senior executive position with broad authority. That has not happened. “This is supposed to be the quarterback,” said Ms. Wasserman Schultz, one of the provision’s authors.
Even when the Justice Department has been publicly called out for ignoring provisions of the law, there has been little change.
In 2011, the Government Accountability Office reported that no steps had been taken to research which online offenders posed a high risk to children and that the Justice Department had not submitted a progress assessment to Congress, both requirements of the law.
At the time, the department said it did not have enough funding to undertake the research and had no “time frame” for submitting a report. Today, the provisions remain largely unfulfilled.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which testified in favor of the 2008 law, has also struggled with demands to contain the spread of the imagery.
Founded in 1984 after the well-publicized kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old Florida boy, Adam Walsh, the center has been closely affiliated with the federal government since the Reagan administration.
But as child exploitation has grown on the internet, the center has not kept up. The technology it uses for receiving and reviewing reports of the material was created in 1998, nearly a decade before the first iPhone was released. To perform key upgrades and help modernize the system, the group has relied on donations from tech companies like Palantir and Google.
The center has said it intends to make significant improvements to its technology starting in 2020, but the problems don’t stop there. The police complain that the most urgent reports are not prioritized, or are sent to the wrong department completely.
“We’re spending a tremendous amount of time having to go through those and reanalyze them ourselves,” said Captain Edwards, the Seattle police official.
In a statement, the national center said it did its best to route reports to the correct jurisdiction.
Despite its mandate by Congress, the center is not subject to public records laws and operates with little transparency. It repeatedly denied requests from The Times for quarterly and annual reports submitted to the Justice Department, as well as for tallies of imagery reports submitted by individual tech companies.
Mr. Shehan, the vice president, said such disclosures might discourage tech companies from cooperating with the center. He said the numbers could be misinterpreted.
The Times found that there was a close relationship between the center and Silicon Valley that raised questions about good governance practices. For example, the center receives both money and in-kind donations from tech companies, while employees of the same companies are sometimes members of its board. Google alone has donated nearly $4 million in the past decade, according to public testimony.
A spokeswoman for the center said it was common to expect corporations to provide financial assistance to charities. But the practice, others working in the area of child protection say, could elevate the interests of the tech companies above the children’s.
“There’s an inherent conflict in accepting money from these companies when they also sit on your board,” said Signy Arnason, who is a top executive at the equivalent organization in Canada, known as the Canadian Center for Child Protection.
This close relationship with tech companies may ultimately be in jeopardy. In 2016, a federal court held that the national center, though private, qualified legally as a government entity because it performed a number of essential government functions.
If that view gains traction, Fourth Amendment challenges about searches and seizures by the government could change how the center operates and how tech companies find and remove illegal imagery on their platforms. Under those circumstances, if they were to collaborate too closely with the center, the companies fear, they could also be viewed as government actors, not private entities, subjecting them to new legal requirements and court challenges when they police their own sites.
An Ugly Mirror
It was a sunny afternoon in July, and an unmarked police van in Salt Lake City was parked outside a pink stucco house. Garden gnomes and a heart-shaped “Welcome Friends” sign decorated the front yard.
At the back of the van, a man who lived in the house was seated in a cramped interrogation area, while officers cataloged hard drives and sifted through web histories from his computers.
The man had shared sexually explicit videos online, the police said, including one of a 10-year-old boy being “orally sodomized” by a man, and another of a man forcing two young boys to engage in anal intercourse.
“The sad thing is that’s pretty tame compared to what we’ve seen,” said Chief Jessica Farnsworth, an official with the Utah attorney general’s office who led a raid of the house. The victims have not been identified or rescued.
The year was barely half over, and Chief Farnsworth’s team had already conducted about 150 such raids across Utah. The specially trained group, one of 61 nationwide, coordinates state and regional responses to internet crimes against children.
The Utah group expects to arrest nearly twice as many people this year as last year for crimes related to child sexual abuse material, but federal funding has not kept pace with the surge. Funding for the 61 task forces from 2010 to 2018 remained relatively flat, federal data shows, while the number of leads referred to them increased by more than 400 percent.
Much of the federal money goes toward training new staff members because the cases take a heavy emotional and psychological toll on investigators, resulting in constant turnover.
“I thought that I was in the underbelly of society — until I came here,” said Ms. Lippert, the prosecutor with the task force in Illinois, who had worked for years at a busy Chicago courthouse.
While any child at imminent risk remains a priority, the volume of work has also forced the task forces to make difficult choices. Some have focused on the youngest and most vulnerable victims, while others have cut back on undercover operations, including infiltrating chat rooms and online forums.
“I think some of the bigger fish who are out there are staying out there,” Ms. Lippert said.
The internet is well known as a haven for hate speech, terrorism-related content, and criminal activity, all of which have raised alarms and spurred public debate and action.
But the problem of child sexual abuse imagery faces a particular hurdle: It gets scant attention because few people want to confront the enormity and horror of the content, or they wrongly dismiss it as primary teenagers sending inappropriate selfies.
Some state lawmakers, judges, and members of Congress have refused to discuss the problem in detail, or have avoided attending meetings and hearings when it was on the agenda, according to interviews with law enforcement officials and victims.
Steven J. Grocki, who leads a group of policy experts and lawyers at the child exploitation section of the Justice Department, said the reluctance to address the issue went beyond elected officials and was a societal problem. “They turn away from it because it’s too ugly of a mirror,” he said.
Yet the material is everywhere, and ever more available.
“I think that people were always there, but the access is so easy,” said Lt. John Pizzuro, a task force commander in New Jersey. “You got nine million people in the state of New Jersey. Based on statistics, we can probably arrest 400,000 people.”
Common language about the abuse can also minimize the harm in people’s minds. While the imagery is often defined as “child pornography” in state and federal laws, experts prefer terms like child sexual abuse imagery or child exploitation material to underscore the seriousness of the crimes and to avoid conflating it with adult pornography, which is legal for people over 18.
Some state lawmakers, judges, and members of Congress have refused to discuss the problem in detail, or have avoided attending meetings and hearings when it was on the agenda, according to interviews with law enforcement officials and victims.
Steven J. Grocki, who leads a group of policy experts and lawyers at the child exploitation section of the Justice Department, said the reluctance to address the issue went beyond elected officials and was a societal problem. “They turn away from it because it’s too ugly of a mirror,” he said.
“Each and every image is a depiction of a crime in progress,” said Sgt. Jeff Swanson, a task force commander in Kansas. “The violence inflicted on these kids is unimaginable.”
Reference 2 Response to the Problem
‘We Had No Idea How Dark This Story Would Get’
Answering your questions about our series on online child abuse (Child Sexual Abuse Images).
This week’s two-part investigation into the explosion of online child sexual abuse imagery drew an enormous response from listeners — and a lot of questions. So we followed up with our guests, the investigative journalists Michael Keller and Gabriel Dance:
What has been the response to this reporting?
Shock. Generally, people — whether it was our editors, people who read our stories, or those who listened to the “Daily”episodes — were shocked to learn how bad the problem was.
After the initial shock, most people became angry, confused, and disappointed. Many expressed frustration with the government’s response and outrage at the tech companies’ inability to stop the spread of the imagery. And nearly everyone said they could not believe that people would do such unspeakable acts to children.
The producers and editors who worked on these episodes described it as a difficult and emotional experience. You two were immersed in this subject for months and months. How did you deal with it?
To be honest, it was hard.
We had no idea how dark this story would get.
Reading hundreds of graphic descriptions of images and videos found in court cases was disturbing. Speaking with survivors of abuse was also difficult, but it was important for us to hear their stories. And we found that these conversations seemed helpful for many of them. There were times during interviews that mothers and daughters would speak with one another for long stretches, without us even asking a question.
We also spoke with dozens of people who have been working on this issue for years, particularly at children’s rights organizations. One of the emotions they consistently conveyed was frustration over inaction and people turning away from the issue. And so knowing that we were drawing attention to an issue that deserved it became a major motivation for reporting on such a tough subject.
Has the reporting triggered any changes within the companies, organizations, or law enforcement agencies you focused on in the episodes?
Yes. Let’s start with the government.
Immediately after our stories were published, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress that would require tech companies to retain information on accounts found with illegal photos and videos for a longer period of time to assist law enforcement with investigations. Lawmakers say this is part of a larger package of bills they intend to introduce to address issues raised by our reporting.
Companies have responded as well.
Several have said they will begin to look for the imagery more aggressively. For instance, spokespeople from Dropbox and Cloud flare said that they would implement more rigorous measures to find and remove the imagery. Others, including Yahoo, have changed their practices around video scanning. Microsoft, which we talked about a lot in these episodes, has expanded the team of employees that monitors this kind of activity and also unveiled a tool to detect adult predators trying to lure children into dangerous situations.
Then there are the advocacy groups.
They’ve told us that our reporting has been crucial to raising awareness of an issue that they’ve felt has been under-reported for years. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which for the first time released the number of reports filed by each company as a result of our reporting, told us that the stories have brought more attention to the issue than anything else in a decade.
A lot of listeners, moved and outraged by what they heard, have asked what they can do about the crisis of child sexual abuse imagery and how they can help victims. What’s the answer?
One of the gratifying things about reporting on an issue like this is seeing the response from readers and listeners who want to help.
There are several domestic organizations working to help end this terrible epidemic, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Thorn, RAINN, and the National Association to Protect Children. There are also international organizations, including the Canadian Center for Child Protection.
One survivor we spoke with on the podcast, Alicia Kozakiewicz, is working to secure funding for law enforcement teams across the nation tasked with investigating these terrible crimes.
Finally, there is always value in calling your representatives to say that this is an issue you feel is important and demands more funding or accountability.
Part 1 of the series begins with the description of the note to The Times’s tip line. Has the person who sent that tip stayed in touch with you?
We haven’t heard from this person. The tip came in anonymously, so there was no way for us to reach out.
The person was right to be outraged, and instead of doing nothing, acted on that outrage. For that, we are grateful.
What’s the next phase of this reporting for you?
We plan to keep investigating and to stay on top of developments from the companies and lawmakers. And, of course, if anyone wants to send us tips for areas we might have missed, they can find a number of secure options at nytimes.com/tips. Thanks to all of you for listening.
Give Your Child the Tools to Recognise Sexual Abuse
Talk to kids about their bodies and empower them to speak out about sexual abuse
Child Exploitation and Sexual Abuse
It seems that every day we open our newspapers, go on social media or watch the news, there’s a horrific new story of child exploitation and abuse. In my role as a counselor and educator who focuses on the prevention of child sexual abuse, people often ask me, “Is sexual abuse more rampant today than in the past?” Caregivers and teachers want to know why it seems as if there is an explosion of new allegations.
It’s a legitimate question and one that’s not easy to answer: Sexual abuse remains an under-reported crime, yet there are more outlets than ever for survivors to talk about traumatic experiences. Light is slowly shining into the dark places where predators have always hidden and on those who harbor and aid them.
So while stories of abuse by trusted clergy or even family members are difficult to read and painful to witness, I am elated to know that we are finally giving a voice to the voiceless. Statistics show at least one in 10 children in the United States will be sexually abused before their 18th birthdays — it’s a topic we cannot ignore.
With a spotlight shining on survivors’ stories, today is a new day. The Child Victims Act was signed into law in New York in February, extending the statute of limitations under which child abusers can be held criminally and civilly liable and giving survivors a broader path to justice.
In June, New York’s state Assembly passed Erin’s Law, which mandates sex abuse education in public schools. Now is the time to focus on prevention.
Predators are great at sniffing out the kids who are already having trouble in other areas of their lives and who may be vulnerable. Still, there are many things that parents and caregivers can do to protect children:
What You Can Do
Teach children that their feelings matter and that they deserve respect.
For parents, this does not mean that children get to run the house or do whatever they please, but it does mean that when a child shares a feeling, we validate it. Many parents can relate to the classic scenario of preparing a wonderful dinner, with the main course and side dishes and even dessert. Then, shortly after dinner and right before bedtime, as your child is putting on PJ’s, you hear: “I’m hungry.”
We all know that we would love to say, “That’s just not possible” or “No you’re not,” or maybe something not as PG. But it takes just a little tweaking to validate a child and still hold our place at the top of the household hierarchy.
Try something like, “I’m sorry you’re hungry, but you will have to wait for breakfast,” or “Oh, you’re hungry … there’s a carrot in the fridge for you,” to maintain the validity of your child’s feelings.
Respect for a child and validation of her feelings gives her a sense of self and helps a child recognize her emotions. Being able to recognize our feelings is the first step in knowing when something doesn’t feel right. Predators rely on the fact that children can be easily manipulated. Children who have a better sense of what feels O.K. and what doesn’t — and are able to receive validation by communicating those feelings to trusted adults — are at a big advantage.
Emphasize that children’s bodies belong to them.
Kids need to understand that no one is allowed to touch their private parts, look at their private parts or talk to them about their private parts outside of appropriate settings, such as a doctor’s office. Communicate this concept to your kids as early as 2 years old. You can start while giving them a bath or during toilet training. Keep your language simple and age-appropriate: “Mommy is washing your eyes and ears and back and your penis.
Your body is so special and it belongs to you, no one is allowed to touch you because this is your body. If anyone does, you tell Mommy right away because my job is to keep you safe and touching, especially on your private parts, which can be unsafe.”
As your child gets older, the conversation should get more detailed and can include using “what if” scenarios, dialogue, and even role-playing. Ensure your child knows that these rules apply to everyone. That means using sentences like, “No one is allowed to make you feel uncomfortable, even if that person is your cousin, uncle, aunt or neighbor. It’s never O.K., and I will always believe you.” Many children will not know this unless you tell them.
Make sure kids understand the difference between secrets and surprises.
Teach children that a secret should never be kept about their private parts. An example you can use is a doctor’s visit, where someone is looking at and possibly touching private parts. Tell them that it is O.K. because the doctor is making sure the child is healthy, but most importantly it is not a secret. Parents should be in the room with a child when he is getting checked or know of the visit and then discuss what occurred with the child.
As a counterbalance, help kids understand the nuance between secrets and surprises. Asking a child to keep a surprise party or gift under wraps could be confusing, so emphasize that there’s a difference between secrets and surprises. A gift’s recipient will eventually know of the surprise and will most likely feel comfortable and happy. On the other hand, a secret that can never be told is not O.K. and can make us feel yucky, confused, or sad. This is a crucial concept for children, because predators will try to have children keep their secret.
Share your own stories, and include as many feelings and sensations as you can.
Children look to adults who are close to them to figure out the meaning of what they are experiencing, so it’s helpful to share our own experiences. This will help kids learn what it means to express what they are feeling and it will put words to things they don’t understand. Your stories do not have to be abuse-related; the important thing is to model what it means to listen to our gut feelings.
Stories can be as simple as: “I was so frustrated this morning because I got stuck in traffic and I knew I would be late to work. My stomach felt like there were butterflies in it, and my hands were so tight I was gripping the steering wheel.” Communicating these things with our children gives them permission to share their own feelings of anger, confusion, happiness, and sadness and to understand that someone else can feel this way.
Ask for permission to touch a child.
When we ask children for small permissions, we are giving them the sense that they have control over their bodies. This way, if a predator walks into their life, they will have a reference to pull from that what they are experiencing feels different. Something as small as asking, “Is it O.K. if I fix your collar? It’s turned up,” sends a message to a child that he has some autonomy over his body. Practicing dialogue like this can go a long way in helping a child realize that a predator will not ask permission, and it will help him spot those tricky people.
Empower kids to say “no” and talk openly.
Encouraging emotional honesty and physical boundaries helps kids gain some control over their bodies. Letting a child say, “No, I don’t want a hug, but a handshake is O.K.” shows her that she has choices. Still, children may not be able to say “no” to their abuser or stop the abuse.
Most children who are sexually abused do not disclose their abuse, so we need to tell children that even if they can’t say “no,” even if they can’t get away, the most important thing to do is to tell someone about the abuse. Tell them that you will believe them no matter what happens, and they will not get into trouble for telling you.
Parents and caregivers can help children come forward with stories of abuse, and get the validation and help they need. Preventing abuse is equally important: By giving children the necessary tools, we can help them learn how to stay safer and support them should they face a traumatic situation.
Internet Safety for Children: Tips to Keep Kids Safe Online
On the Internet, you can find information about — and images of — almost anything. However, when it comes to your children’s online activities, you need to make sure they’re protected against contact with undesirable people, inappropriate or harmful content and malicious software or attacks. Learning a few online safety tips for kids can help keep them safe.
The Internet is a familiar construct for many people: they witnessed the transition from dial-up modems to cable to broadband and watched as mobile technology swept the globe. Children are now born into an Internet-equipped world — this technology permeates everything they do, from school to home to play, and perpetual connectivity has caused no shortage of alarm for mindful parents.
Why Kids Need Protection on The Internet
Parents hear about the importance of online safety for kids from multiple sources; the news, for example, is never short on stories involving children and predators on the Web. Anecdotal evidence from other parents and warnings from local law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, contributes to a nagging fear about allowing kids any kind of online access.
Statistics from NetSmartz (an online effort by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), however, bear out the fact that children are online more than ever. Ninety-three percent of kids aged 12 to 17 are online, and 75 percent of the same age group have cell phones. Seventy-three percent of teens have social networking profiles on sites like Facebook, with almost half uploading pictures of themselves.
The Dangers of Internet Use for Kids
As computers and Internet-connected devices become more common — for work, play, or school assignments — it can become more difficult for parents to protect their children from numerous threats on the Web. There’s a wide range of dangers that can affect kids online.
Contact with undesirable people, including:
Predators — for example, in social media messages or gaming lobby chat rooms.
Cyberbullies — children can be targeted by online bullies, including real-life ones.
Phishing scammers — they trick your child out of sensitive info about themselves or you.
Inappropriate content, such as:
Sexually explicit content — notably pornographic images and video.
Violent or graphic content — such as gore or acts of assault.
Obscene or age-inappropriate content — like foul language or drug and alcohol use.
Downloads of pirated materials — including music or video files.
Computer security issues:
Drive-by downloads — whereby simply visiting a website can result in malicious programs being automatically installed on your child’s computer.
Malware infections — can give other people access to your child’s computer. May appear in peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing programs, web links, attachments and more.
Unwanted advertising, pop-ups, and adware programs — often automatically installed when freeware or shareware programs are downloaded. These can also carry spyware.
There’s a real concern around Internet safety for children since they are in many respects savvier than their parents when it comes to the Web. Fortunately, family Internet safety is becoming more of a priority.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Kids Online
The question, “how do I provide Internet safety for kids?” becomes a daunting prospect, because many parents assume parental controls require extensive technical knowledge. But thanks to easy-to-use Internet security software, virtually any parent can protect children from objectionable material or prevent them from downloading damaging malware.
Managing & Monitoring Your Kids Internet access
For parents, access management is critical, and this takes two broad forms:
Parental control software — often comes bundled with Internet security solutions and gives you the ability to manage the time your child spends online.
Parental control features allow to you control all aspects of your child’s Internet experience. This can include anything from the amount of time they are allowed to spend online, to the applications and websites they’re permitted to use. Any attempts to use blocked programs will be stopped and recorded in the program’s log for later viewing.
If you prefer more advanced settings, you can also limit correspondence with specific contacts on social networks, restrict messages that contain personal details, or even prevent messages with certain words or phrases from being sent.
A high-quality parental control program gives you power along with transparency, making it easy to set up restrictions for each user. This means, however, that you need to be diligent in logging off your own profile when finished with the computer; otherwise, you’ll be sabotaging your own efforts.
Antivirus protection is just as critical for your family’s online safety. Websites that appear legitimate may in fact carry malicious code. Alternatively, they could redirect your child to a dummy site that looks the same but actually contains a keylogger or computer virus.
To make sure your child’s personal information isn’t collected without your knowledge, set up a regular schedule for automatic virus checks, and also run a deep system scan every month to ensure you don’t have any unwanted visitors on your hard drive.
Giving your children trust and respect
Kids must have some room to learn and grow from their own choices. Oppressive content controls won’t help them accomplish that. It might even make them more rebellious.
Ultimately, parents face a war on two fronts:
Limiting inappropriate Internet access.
Acknowledging their child’s burgeoning independence.
To avoid a losing battle, it’s important to respect the technical aspects of online control, and the ability of kids to counteract poor security measures. Children are born into a world of tablets and smartphones and have an inherent comfort with the Internet that is absent in many adults. This comfort, however, often leads to blindness about potential risks.
The bottom line for parents:
Using online security controls must go hand-in-hand with respecting your child. Child safety online starts with adaptable, powerful parental controls, and is backed by solid virus protection software. But it works best when combined with a healthy dose of respect and freedom for their Internet-savvy children. With the right tools and the right attitude, parents can help make their kids’ online timeless worrisome.
How to Choose the Best Security Software for Your Household
When evaluating parental control software for your family, it is vital to ensure that the software provides comprehensive protection from Internet threats. Parental control is only one part of protecting your family from the dangers of the Internet.
Online safety for kids means:
Protecting your children from objectionable material.
Protecting your devices against viruses or malware, spam, and mobile threats.
Your security suite needs to cover each of these bases for a strong safety net. Fortunately, many Internet security solutions provide holistic protection from a central hub to fight all online threats.
The market is chock-full of security software, so choosing the right one can seem like an overwhelming process. Fortunately, you can test products by using a free internet security software trial. By using a trial, it is possible to get a feel for the software and ensure that it is a good fit for your family.
What Your Kids Need to Know About Internet Safety
Teaching your children about the risks of online activity can be another important step to keep their experience safe, fun, and secure. However, keeping kids safe in the Internet playground can be challenging. After all, there are no teachers to watch over them — and you certainly can’t monitor them every minute.
So, how do you keep kids safe on the internet? Let’s look at the ways you can safeguard against the everyday dangers your kids could face.
1. Don’t talk to strangers
Whether playing online games with friends or joining in conversations on social media, children come into contact with strangers every day. But online comment threads, chat rooms, and private messages also contain cybercriminals. They hide behind avatars to trick children into giving out personal details. These details can then be used to steal your identity and money. These phishing scams are especially common when targeting vulnerable people, such as children and the elderly.
What your kids need to know: Your kids need to know that people are likely not who they say they are online. Even if someone looks, sounds, or acts like someone their age, they may be fooled. Always be cautious and never give out any personal info, even to “known” friends. This might include anything from age and location, to online login info or whether your parents are home.
How you can help your kids: Sticking to well-known games or reputable social sites can help protect your child. But even then, it can be hard keeping your child safe on the internet by monitoring who they talk to online and what they say. Comprehensive internet security products like Kaspersky Total Security can help. These prevent your child from sending information such as bank account details, names, and addresses through chat rooms and instant messengers. And it’s not just cybercriminals who operate in these chat spaces. Sadly, as in real life, bullies exist on the Internet.
2. Block and report online bullies
On gaming sites and social media, some people log on to simply harass and taunt others. These players are known as cyberbullies. Controlling and preventing cyberbullying is difficult. In most online games, moderators attempt to ban them. But with so many players, it can be hard to get every single one. Social media can be equally tricky as each platform has different guidelines in response to cyberbullies. They may even define harassment differently than other platforms.
What your kids need to know: If someone’s actions are making them feel uncomfortable or attacked, your child should let you know. Also, you or your child should document the behaviors and report them to support staff if possible. Most importantly, be sure that your child does not stick around for more abuse. They can block the person if necessary. Sometimes bullying can be an extension of real-life harassment, which needs further intervention.
How you can help your kids: Again, parental control functions can keep your child safe from internet bullies in the online playground. They work by monitoring who your child talks to online and providing you with the power to block any undesirable contacts. You can also receive alerts when any specified word is used in online communication.
Even with all this protection, it is still impossible to monitor your child 100% of the time. Seemingly innocent sites can still contain malicious links that can compromise the security of your whole network.
3. Some links, downloads, and websites can make computers sick
Cybercriminals know children seek out free software, music, and games. They also know children are more likely to trust links and email attachments.
What your kid needs to know:
If your child clicks on one of these links, they may download a virus that has the potential to not just compromise expose the security of their PC, but your whole network. They may do this inadvertently, simply clicking on a banner ad while the malware invisibly loads compromising your kid’s safety on the Internet.
How you can help your kids: The best protection is a decent Internet security suite that blocks unsafe links and checks every download for signs of malware. A total security product like Kaspersky Total Security will do this for everyone — and every computer or mobile device — in your house. You can monitor the whole network from your PC and adjust the security settings of each computer individually.
Nothing replaces parental guidance when it comes to child Internet safety. Simply talking to your children can help hugely – teaching them to not automatically click “yes” buttons and to walk away from bullies or potential cybercriminals. Internet security suites with parental controls are meant to compliment this by monitoring what they get up to online.
4. Anything shared on the internet is shared forever
Nothing can ever truly be deleted from the internet, even if it was never “public.” Children might not know the permanence of anything they say, show, or share on the net. However, you’ll need to make sure they know there are many ways this information lives on.
The framework of the internet means nothing can permanently be removed. There will always be artifacts of the data left behind, almost like breadcrumbs. People are another way private data gets stored longer than planned. If your child sends a picture, message, or other data to someone, that person will always have a way to save it. Your child’s devices can even eavesdrop through spyware or man-in-the-middle attacks.
What your kid needs to know: Never share anything online that you would not share publicly with everyone for the rest of your life. Whether your child is talking with a stranger or someone they know outside the web, the risk is always there. Even timed-deletion messages in apps like Snapchat are never permanently gone from the web. How you can help your kids: Be sure that they talk with you if anything questionable comes up. Tell them to talk with you if they want to buy an app, get a message about a free giveaway, or even get a message asking them about real-life details.
Open communication can be a roadblock for a lot of shady online behavior towards kids. The first steps involved getting your internet security software active. Now with your awareness of online hazards, you’re ready to sit with your kids for a talk on cybersecurity.
How to: 6 Ways to Talk with Your Kids About Internet Safety
Ultimately, you must talk with your children about online threats in a way that they’ll understand. The Internet poses real risks for children and teens, but parents can help them make informed decisions that keep them safe online. Here are six ways to talk about Internet safety with your children.
1. Set the Ground Rules
Before handing a computer or mobile device to your children, you should have an age-appropriate discussion about what they should and should not do. First, set limits on online time. When their time online is not idle, there’s a smaller chance of drifting into undesirable parts of the web.
Tell your children to talk with you before sharing information like their names or address or speaking with someone they meet online. They should tell you right away if they see something that upsets or scares them.
Treating others online how they’d want to be treated themselves is an equally important value to teach your kids. Anonymity on the web can cause anyone to say cruel things they normally wouldn’t — even children. If they help make the web a better place, they’ll be happier about it.
2. Talk About How — and Why — You Will Monitor Their Online Use
As children get older and join social networks, be upfront about monitoring what they post and why you’re doing it. Even teenagers may not fully understand the long-term impact of their posts, or that the Internet never forgets. They should be aware that you’re looking out for them, not trying to get them in trouble.
It can be a tough tightrope to walk when you’re trying to keep your kids safe without making them feel like you don’t trust them. Set boundaries and discuss situations in which you may need to cross them.
If you find that your way of monitoring is causing conflicts, be open to trying something new. Remind your children that their safety is your primary concern, but don’t be afraid to give them a little freedom as they get older.
Parental control software, such as Kaspersky Safe Kids offers an easy solution to monitor and manage your children’s online activity.
3. Talk About What’s Going on in Their Lives
Open lines of communication are critical in many aspects of parenting — and with online safety in particular. That’s because cyberbullying is like its real-world counterpart. It’s often something kids don’t want to mention because they fear they’ll get in trouble or lose their Internet access.
Make it clear you’re interested in all areas of your kids’ lives. Also, make sure they know they can come to you with any problems they’re having. Actively listen during regular conversations to show your kids that you’re always there for them, no matter what’s going on.
4. Teach Kids How to Take Action Themselves
Show your kids they can take steps to be proactive online by teaching them how to use the privacy, reporting and blocking functions on the sites they visit. Older kids may know more about the online world than you. Consider making them the experts and having them show you the safety features of the sites they frequent.
5. Involve Kids in Decision-Making
Like all parenting conversations, talks about online safety should be learning experiences, not one-sided lectures. Ask what they think about what they’re seeing online and whether it’s potentially dangerous. If they disagree, listen to why — and be prepared to respond. Even if they don’t like the rules, kids are more likely to follow them if they believe they played a part in setting them.
6. Don’t Forget the Positive
It’s important not to make the entire Internet seem like a scary place to avoid at all costs. Help set the stage for responsible online behavior by talking about the ways the Internet can help with schoolwork and pursuing other interests. Kids follow the examples of their parents in many seen and unseen ways. Sharing examples of how you use the Internet responsibly can send a much stronger message than implementing rules and restrictions.
Internet Safety Tips for Kids — Essential Takeaway Advice for Parents
Kids today are growing up in a world that’s cybercentric. It’s impossible to avoid children’s eventual introduction to the Internet and all things digital. But it is possible to keep them secure and avoid risks while teaching kids how to be safe online. It starts with the right strategy, and these tips can help.
To recap, here are the most valuable takeaways for keeping children safe online:
Talk to your children about the potential dangers that they may face online.
Move your children’s computers to a common family room if possible.
Try to make the computer a shared family experience.
Encourage your children to talk to you about anything they experience online that upsets them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
Restrict the content that can be accessed via the computer:
Many Internet security solutions can help you to do this
Internet Explorer includes a Content Advisor that can also help
Provide guidelines that let your child know what they can and cannot do on the Internet.
For example, your guidelines could tell your child whether they are permitted to:
Register with social networking or other websites
Make online purchases
Download music, video, or program files
Use instant messaging programs
Visit Internet chat rooms
If your child is allowed to use instant messaging and/or visit chat rooms, it’s worth explaining to them that it’s dangerous to chat with or send messages to anyone that they don’t know and trust.
Download and install the latest security patches and updates for all your devices as they come out. This includes your operating systems, apps, and other software.
Install a rigorous antivirus product that’s capable of defending all of your families’ computers and mobile devices against malicious programs and hackers. Many Internet security software products combine antivirus capabilities and advanced parental control features that make it easier to protect your children when they’re online.
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