Blurred image of a young child in a bed surrounded by stuffed animals as a somber commentary on the prevalence of child sexual abuse images
October 7, 2019

Child Sexual Abuse Images Are Flooding the Internet and (Almost) No One is Fighting Back

Child sexual abuse images, often referred to colloquially as “child pornography,” are illegal. The distribution of adult obscene pornography—including online—is illegal. The exploitation of child sexual abuse images and the porn industry are demonstrably and inextricably intertwined. Yet, even as NGOs and law enforcement continually report how badly the fight is being lost in the space of protecting children from these abuses, much of the public remains in the dark—sometimes intentionally—and the government continues to divert funding away from combatting online child sex abuse images and continues to refuse to prosecute illegal online pornography altogether.

If this is not complicity, then what is?

Here’s the reality: even though an extensive New York Times report on the meteoric rise of child sexual abuse images online (there were 18.4 million reports in 2018 alone) revealed how dramatically underfunded the fight against them is, it hardly had the room to touch on the links between child sex abuse and the porn industry and how the Department of Justice’s prosecutions against distributors of obscene online pornography drastically diminished and then completely vanished over the course of the last four presidential administrations.

The government continues to divert funding away from combatting online child sex abuse images and continues to refuse to prosecute illegal online pornography altogether. If this is not complicity, then what is? Click To Tweet

What we’re left with is a government that has abdicated its role in protecting its citizens—and our children—from the pornography industry’s incredibly pernicious system of exploitation that is driven by a twisted pursuit of untold revenues at its very worst.

No one needs to squint or strain their eyes to see the correlation between the lack of obscenity prosecutions and the subsequent explosion of online pornography—including online child sexual abuse images.

If the government refuses to enforce existing laws, then it goes without saying that the door is left wide open for the outright dismissal of that law in practice. In turn, bad actors are increasingly emboldened to abuse and exploit an ever-growing number of victims because they know no one is willing or able to do anything about it. The New York Times report mentions that many of the individuals and groups that are producing, distributing, and consuming child sexual abuse images online—images and videos that literally depict child sexual abuse in progress—brazenly taunt law enforcement for its inability to find and stop them.

Minimalist iconographic rendering of an adult male filming two children as a statement against child sexual abuse
The Research-backed Links Between Pornography and Child Sexual Abuse

A burning question emerges from all of the metaphorical and literal violence and chaos we continue to observe in connection to the exponential growth of the porn industry: why is there still such a strong refusal to act?

Worse yet, why do so many people actively defend pornography and attempt to whitewash over its myriad abuses?

The Unfortunate Truths Behind Society’s Ignorance of Child Sexual Abuse Material

Although there may be more reasons/excuses that could be given, it seems there are two prevalent excuses that bubble to the top when it comes to ignoring and/or avoiding taking action against the devastating crimes inherent to child sexual abuse images:

  1. Online access to pornography supercharges one of the oldest and most basic demands in existence. Demand for sex has driven mankind to manipulate, subjugate, abuse, and exploit those less powerful than them for thousands of years. Based on history and the continued pervasiveness of the abuse of a basic human desire for intimacy, some feel it is futile to put up any resistance to the lusty demand of the human sex drive and feel it is meaningless to make any attempt to contain it.
  2. We see so much pain and brokenness in the world around us that our capacity for sympathy—let alone compassion—has worn thin enough that we have to shut things out in order to cope. More subconscious than conscious, the rise of compassion fatigue (or “empathy fatigue”) is the natural consequence of our interconnected world. For most of human history, we only had access to the pain of those colocated with us. In our digital age, we have 24/7 access to the pain of a huge percentage of humankind but our time/energy/brain power cannot keep pace.

It is on the backs of these excuses that the destructive exploitation of the online pornography industry continues to not only rest but expand. It is on the backs of these excuses that the sexual abuse of children has grown so exponentially. It is our failure to meaningfully counter false narratives—like the ones that claim inaction and acquiescence are the only options for response to the “inevitability” of sexual abuse of adults and children alike—that has allowed exploitive industries to not only survive but thrive.

Those who are producing, distributing, and consuming the millions of child sexual abuse images online often brazenly taunt law enforcement for its inability to find and stop them. Click To Tweet

We may not be able to stop every single abuser, but that should in no way prevent us from eradicating as much abuse as possible. We may not be able to fix every disordered sexual demand, but that should in no way prevent us from working to build a world where we protect the vulnerable and marginalized from being exploited by those demands. In no way should we ever just stand by and accept as inevitable any system that profits off of the exploitation of human beings. Humanity’s brokenness may be unavoidable, but exploitative systems are not. Systems that enable and/or further sexual exploitation can and must be eradicated at every turn.

The good news is that 1) it’s not hopeless and 2) there are still those who are a part of a movement to fight for and build a world free from sexual exploitation in all its forms.

There are actions we can take—on legislative, corporate, and public fronts—to continue dismantling systems that abuse human beings sexually—be they children or adults. We’ve already seen some victories on a number of these issues and the momentum is beginning to shift, albeit not as quickly as we would like. Which is where you come in.

The movement to end exploitation—such as pornography, prostitution, sex trafficking, child sexual abuse images, and more—needs people who are willing to shed the excuses and join the fight. As is increasingly apparent, the industries that fuel and profit off of sexual exploitation are willing to use vast amounts of money, resources, and manpower to protect themselves, their profits, and their abuse. Which means we have to be even more committed to spending our time, energy, and resources to the movement.

Here’s a really important fact: every little bit counts. No, really, it does.

There *are* actions we can take—on legislative, corporate, and public fronts—to dismantle systems that abuse human beings sexually—be they children or adults. #EndExploitation Click To Tweet

In a war as big as this one, every action counts. Every dollar matters. Every email, phone call, or tweet contributes to the cause. The biggest thing we need is an exponential number of people like you to be willing to contribute however they are able. If all of us are willing to do at least one small thing (or more), then that has the potential to add up to tens and even hundreds of millions of powerful actions.

A world without exploitation is within our grasp. Will we throw off our blinders and take hold of it?

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Jake Roberson

Director of Communications

As director of communications and being in charge of creative and digital strategy, Jake’s work with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation is to expose and subvert the complex web of sexual exploitation’s interconnectivity by leveraging digital mediums as a means for developing relevant tactics to reach, engage, convert, develop, and activate new allies for the fight to end sexual exploitation in all its forms.

Prior to his work with NCOSE, Jake spent five years in charge of social media strategy for a large international nonprofit where he led content and marketing efforts that generated over $22 million in ROI from earned media value in the social media space, ideated creative campaign concepts that raised over $6 million in donations, brought in six figures worth of donation revenue from Facebook alone during his last three fiscal quarters there, and turned social media into one of the organization’s top three most-used resources.

When his work-life balance is well-balanced, Jake spends his time with his wife and four children attempting to convince them to enjoy his favorite hobbies (sports, pop culture, and podcasting) in the few spare moments that aren’t filled with tending to their dreams, passions, and fights over who established possession over the toy first.

Further Reading