The internet? We don’t need to tell you what a game-changer it’s been. It’s our infinite library/newsstand/theater, and social media has expanded our ability to connect with each other. Unfortunately, it’s also proven to be a dream come true for sex traffickers who’ve invented brand-new ways to capture and exploit prey. Thorn, a non-profit dedicated to fighting child sexual exploitation, is fighting back using the latest technology to assist law enforcement in putting a stop to it.
There are a range of ways in which the internet has become the center of sexual exploitation, with an estimated 325,000 U.S. children currently at risk:
- child pornography, or “child sexual abuse imagery” — Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code, defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age). Visual depictions include photographs, videos, digital or computer generated images indistinguishable from an actual minor.
- “sextortion” — a form of extortion in which a predator threatens to publish imagery of a victim unless the victim meets the extortionist’s demands. In every parent’s nightmare, this can be imagery posted to social media or pictures acquired through the hacking of devices. According to Thorn, “Perpetrators are often current, former or would-be romantic or sexual partners attempting to harass, embarrass and control victims.”
- live streaming of sexual abuse — online live streaming of child sexual abuse to paying customers. This is especially difficult to prosecute, since once the stream’s gone, so is the evidence.
- minor sex trafficking — defined by law as “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” According to Thorn’s survey of trafficking survivors, 63% said they had been advertised online.
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