Confronting the Rise of Child Sexual Abuse Material Online: Takeaways from the Josh Duggar Case

The recent conviction of Josh Duggar for possession of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) calls attention to the ongoing proliferation of these materials online. While the National Center on Sexual Exploitation commended the verdict as a step toward holding perpetrators accountable, there is much more work to be done to bring justice to all survivors. 

Until something is done to stem the flood of CSAM available online, there will be a never-ending torrent of abusers to hold accountable for their crimes against children.

Until something is done to stem the flood of CSAM available online, there will be a never-ending torrent of abusers to hold accountable for their crimes against children. #ProtectKidsOnline Click To Tweet

In 2020 alone, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had more than 21.7 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation made to its CyberTipline—the most reports ever made in one year. The New York Times has also exposed the exponential increases in CSAM over the past few years, but even with rising awareness of this issue few changes are underway to stop this rampant exploitation. 

The Josh Duggar case highlights the escalation of abuse and the interconnectedness of several forms of sexual exploitation. 

The Josh Duggar case highlights the escalation of abuse and the interconnectedness of several forms of sexual exploitation.  #Detect2Protect #ProtectKidsOnline Click To Tweet

Background on the Duggar Case

sexual abuse scandal in 2015 revealed that Duggar had previously admitted to molesting four of his sisters and a babysitter when he was a young teenager. He also previously admitted to having a pornography addiction beginning as a child that has escalated severely over the years. He was caught and admitted to extramarital affairs by purchasing sex via the prostitution website Ashley Madison and has now been caught with child sexual abuse images. 

What led to this terrible sequence of events? Part of the answer lies in the harmful effects of pornography on children and adolescents.

Harms of Early Childhood Exposure to Pornography

Not only is the Internet exploding with CSAM, but it is also rife with hardcore pornography depicting adults (many made to look like teens). Unfortunately, it is extremely common for children and adolescents to be exposed to pornography at a young age. A nationally representative survey of U.S. adolescents ages 14–18 found that 84% of boys and 57% of girls had ever viewed pornography. 

The age of exposure to pornography is no doubt decreasing as younger kids receive unabridged access to social media where pornography is rampant. And we should be concerned by what they are learning from pornography. 

Mainstream online pornography is violent, racist, and misogynistic, and it normalizes dangerous, violent sexual behaviors. 

The age of exposure to pornography is decreasing. That should be cause for concern when mainstream pornography is teaching violence, racism, and misogyny. #pornharms #ProtectKidsOnline Click To Tweet

Pornography Exposure Leads to Problematic Sexual Behavior

Research has found that adolescent exposure to pornography is associated with engaging in problematic and sexually aggressive behaviors. In fact, adolescent exposure to violent pornography is a predictor of emergence of sexual violence, with the average age at first perpetration between 15 and 16 years of age. It is clearly problematic when children learn about sex from pornography.

The violence and abuse prevalent in mainstream pornography can warp young people’s view of sex from a young age. Children may attempt to act out what they see in pornography on their peers.

To learn more about child-on-child harmful sexual behavior, view our research summary here. 

Pornography Use Alters the Brain and What is “Acceptable”

The prevalence of online pornography is not just a concern for children, however. Adults can also become addicted to pornography, which alters their brains over time. Escalation of pornography addiction may lead to novelty-seeking and habituation—when a pornography user’s brain no longer responds to previously exciting sexual stimuli and they must seek more extreme content to achieve the same level of arousal. 

This phenomenon has been demonstrated in several studies. For example, a 2016 study found that 49% of subjects reported seeking material that was not previously interesting to them or that they considered disgusting. Studies have also shown that pornography use at a younger age is associated with eventual escalation to more deviant pornography, including bestiality and CSAM. In addition, research has found that abusers of CSAM escalate over time to images of younger victims and increasing severity of sexual acts depicted. 

Escalation of Abuse Shows Interconnectedness of All Forms of Exploitation

Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are not created in a vacuum. 

There is an established link between pornography, CSAM, sexual violence, child-on-child harmful sexual behavior, and child sexual abuse.

That is not to say all pornography users will become perpetrators of child sexual abuse—just as not everyone who drinks will become an alcoholic. But the evidence of the damaging effects of pornography and the connections between various forms of sexual exploitation are clear.

The evidence of the damaging effects of pornography and the connections among various forms of sexual exploitation are clear. We must confront the rise of child sexual abuse material online! #endchildabuseonline Click To Tweet

Find more information and research on the harms of pornography here and here.

The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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