Online Child Exploitation Material – Trends and Emerging Issues: Research Report of the Australian National University Cybercrime Observatory with the input of the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner
Online Child Exploitation Material – Trends and Emerging Issues, Australian National University, Cybercrime Observatory with the input of the Australian Office of the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner, Canberra, 2016
105 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2016 Last revised: 26 Nov 2016
Date Written: November 4, 2016
This report by the ANU Cybercrime Observatory provides an overview of three important areas for Child Exploitation Material (CEM):
• The relationship between online and offline offending;
• Horizon scanning - identifying emerging areas of CEM development; and
• Current regulatory, educational and collaborative approaches to combatting CEM
Each section provides an overview of the issue and further analysis of other key areas identified during the research phase. At the conclusion of each section, a brief annotated bibliography is available to provide insight into which sources may be useful for further investigation. Information for this report was derived from many and varied sources including but not limited to government agencies (national and international), non-governmental organisations, academic articles, law enforcement agencies, blogs, tech websites, product sites, online news articles and surveys. While investigating each area, the research team worked within the scope of online CEM and aimed to provide a substantial overview for each section by addressing some of the key points or emerging trends. However during the research phase several areas that were not initially considered for the report were later identified as key areas of development for online CEM (e.g. Virtual Reality and Applications). Accordingly these topics were also included in the report.
The relationship between online and offline sexual offending is highly controversial and complex. It is clear that research is lacking in this area and current research presents insufficient evidence for establishing a causal relationship between online and offline offending. Apart from addressing some of the methodological limitations of research in this area, this section of the report also addresses how the internet or technological advances (e.g. Virtual Reality) may assist in the desistance of offending or exacerbate motivations to commit real life offenses.
The second section presents several emerging issues in online CEM and aims to provide a brief but comprehensive insight into how these areas are developing. The various topics include live streaming, applications, online gaming, user-generated content, Darknet, hacking, phishing, emerging technology and Virtual Reality (VR). Some of these concepts are quite traditional (e.g. user-generated content) however it is the development of ‘cyber’ and ‘technology’, which frames them as emerging issues. Other topics (e.g. live streaming or VR) present new, unique challenges to combatting online CEM. Some topics include snapshots of current cases such as the Pokémon Go trend, the Australian schools online pornography website, and interactive VR brothels and their implications for CEM.
The final section discusses trends and effectiveness of current regulatory, educational, and collaborative approaches to CEM. Regulatory methods include ISP and social media regulation, parental control tools, and the potential for app regulation is also briefly mentioned. Key educational approaches include online safety guides and training courses. Collaborative prevention measures include hotlines, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Child Rescue Coalition, and the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT). While these CEM prevention methods have made notable differences in detection and removal of CEM the effectiveness of education of the public, generation of reports, self-reporting, and tracking of child predators remains empirically untested.
Technology is continually evolving and it is difficult to predict or evaluate emerging issues. The research team found it challenging to identify substantial information that can be verified by current research. This was particularly the case when analysing cutting edge or new technology as well as evaluating the effectiveness of current prevention approaches. This report aims to provide a reference point for further analysis and research on the topics addressed.
Challenges associated with the cyber sphere and the ‘Internet of Everything’ do not remain static. The degree of facilitation (e.g. Virtual Private Networks, digital currency) and convergence associated with online CEM are continuously evolving in step with changes in technology. The rapid rate of change is the key challenge for the development of effective prevention strategies. This was demonstrated while our research was underway. Innovation, usually an adaptation of existing software or technology that was not initially present was later identified as a key developing area in online CEM (e.g. Virtual Reality and software applications). The Pokemon Go craze, which quickly attracted malware and grooming is a good example of the misuse of a popular apps. The velocity and variety of new and emerging risks with potential impact on online CEM will require, as a priority, the means to monitor these developments.
The increase and rapid distribution of user-generated content is especially concerning. One aspect, consensually shared or ‘stolen’ sexualized images has given rise to ‘sextortion’, which can be propagated with the development of ‘apps’ that can inadvertently enhance and facilitate online CEM. Equally concerning are the implications of Virtual Reality (VR). VR in combination with teledildonics (or ‘cyberdildonics’ products designed to realise remote sex) enables potential offenders to live out any of their sexual fantasies. The VR trend may motivate offenders to seek on-line or off-line victims. The effects of VR on the conduct of pedophiles remain unclear. We don’t know whether VR will placate desires or erode social inhibitions. However, VR is likely to encourage some criminals to enhance their experience by incorporating live streaming of child sex abuse with the tactile experiences promised by such technologies. The prevention of online CEM depends entirely on knowing present and emerging risks. Effective counter-measures include deep web surveillance of CEM innovators, and the development of early warning systems, for example, SNS ‘swarm’ warning flags.
Keywords: child exploitation materials, child pornography, on-line child safety
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation