Online exploitation occurs when an individual uses internet technology to gain access to, groom, and/or sexually exploit children.
In the last decade, access to the Internet has increased exponentially. Nowadays, most children have at least limited access to the Internet, through computers, mobile phones or other internet facilitating devices. Internet access provides children with opportunities. They can keep in contact with their friends, search for information, organize meetings, play games, etc. All these new opportunities; however, also bring dangers along. Child sex offenders make use of these new opportunities to sexually exploit children.
The number of child victims of online exploitation has been growing with the increase of internet access. In the United States approximately one in five children is sexually solicited online (Finkelhor, Mitchell, and Wolak, 2000). However, also in Asia there are indications that online exploitation is more common than most people would think (European Financial Coalition against Commercial Exploitation of Children Online, 2013; Irish Mirror, 2014). Especially webcam-based sexual exploitation of children seems to occur disproportionally in South-Asia compared to other areas of the world.
Online grooming is defined as deliberately undertaken online actions that aim to prepare and deceive a child, significant adults (e.g. family or caretakers), the community, organizations and institutions for the abuse of the child. Specific goals are to gain access to the child, lower the child’s inhibitions towards sex, consequently gain the child’s compliance, and prevent the child from disclosing the abuse.
Online grooming is often faster than offline grooming. Communication methods which make use of Internet technology are faster than communication methods in real-life. In addition, these online methods do not have real-life boundaries with regards of time and space. If two persons have internet access, they can talk day and night and at any location. This allows a perpetrator to develop a ‘special relationship’ with a child in less time. Another important factor is that children often feel freer to speak about certain topics online. Introducing a topic like sex is therefore much easier and children are sooner desensitized.
Online grooming is often more secretive and hidden compared to offline grooming. It often happens behind a computer or other internet facilitating device. It can thus happen that a parent has never seen his or her child together with its perpetrator.
Online grooming can occur between a child and a perpetrator who know each other from the real world (offline) or who know each other through the Internet (online). The internet technology which is being used to groom the child just works as an aid for the grooming process (speeding up the grooming process, making the child feel less inhibited to speak about sensitive topics like sex, etc.)
Online grooming leaves signs. Pay attention to the following signs in order to determine whether the child is indeed being groomed:
- Excessive computer use. Child wants to use the computer for long periods and at unusual times (i.e. during the night). In addition, the child does not want to share the computer with other people.
- Child is secretive about what he or she doing with the computer. When the child does not use a computer, he or she might behave secretive as well.
- Child comes home with gifts or cash that he or she cannot explain.
- Child stores indecent images on his or her computer.
- The child’s behavior changes. He or she starts using more inappropriate sexual behavior or language.
- The child does not socialize with friends as much as it used to do. The child seems to become more and more absorbed into the online world.
If you can see the conversation between a child and a potential perpetrator, there are clues which give away whether the person is trying to groom the child or not. Almost all perpetrators use the same grooming techniques, but these grooming techniques are always tailored specifically to a child.
Perpetrators will try to get contact by phone, webcam or anything which provides them with more real contact (e.g. voice or video) before they can meet in real-life.
Child pornography is (Art. 40, Cambodia’s Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation):
“A visible material such as a photograph or videotape, including a material in electronic form, depicting a minor’s naked figure which excites or stimulates sexual desire”
The punishments for crimes related to child pornography are severe (Art, 41, Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation):
“A person who distributes, sells, leases, displays, projects or presents in public place, a child pornography shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 to 5 years and a fine of 4,000,000 to 10,000,000 Riels.
A person who possesses, transports, imports, or exports a child pornography for the purpose of use in commission of the offense stipulated in the above paragraph 1 shall be punished the same. A person who produces a child pornography shall be punished with imprisonment for 5 to 10 years.
A person who produces a child pornography for the purpose of use in commission of any offense stipulated in the above-stated first and second paragraphs shall be punished with imprisonment for 10 to 20 years.“
Child pornography can be divided into two subcategories (Lanning, 2010): commercial and homemade. Commercial means that the produced materials are intended for commercial sale. Home-made, on the other hand, means that the materials were not produced primarily for commercial sale. The distinction between the two types of child pornography has become more unclear due to online production and distribution.
Perpetrators who collect commercial and/or homemade child pornography do this for a wide variety of reasons (Lanning, 2010):
- To use for sexual gratification. For many of the consumers, child pornography is used in the same way as adult pornography is used: to fuel sexual fantasies. Some of these consumers will watch child pornography before they actually abuse a child. Others may just watch the material for direct satisfaction.
- To lower children’s inhibitions. In the grooming process, perpetrators try to desensitize potential victims to sex. Pornography, especially child pornography, can play an essential role in this. Perpetrators will show photos or videos in which children seemingly ‘enjoy’ the sexual activity in order to convince a reluctant child.
- To blackmail the victim. After child pornography is produced, victims are sometimes blackmailed with the materials. For victims, the idea that materials will be distributed is often such a scary idea that they will comply with anything the perpetrator says to them. Thus blackmailing can ensure that a child will not disclose the abuse and complies in further sexual activity.
- To exchange. Child pornography collector often exchange materials among each other in order to increase their collection.
- To use for profit. Child pornography can have a great monetary value. In general, materials displaying younger children and more bizarre acts are considered more valuable.
The amount of child pornography that can be found online is enormous. Digital cameras and other devices which are cheap and widely available have made it easy to produce and distribute child pornography. As a result of that, a large industry has developed.
For the victims, child pornography shows the most dark and horrific moments from their lives. To make matters worse, materials that have been distributed online will most likely never completely be removed from the Internet. The victims have to live with the fact that there will always be individuals who enjoy watching their material.
It is sometimes said that individuals who only watch child pornography do not do anything wrong. However, these individuals increase the demand for materials in which children are abused and are therefore a part of the problem. In addition to that, these individuals watch the sexual exploitation of a child for their own sexual gratification. Indirectly they are exploiting the child by doing this. Thinking that just watching child pornography is acceptable is thus a myth.
Sexting is the sending of sexually explicit materials through mobile devices. Often this is done through mobile phones. Some people see sexting as innocent and do not understand the risks that are associated. They do not fully understand that you lose control over a picture, video or text the moment you sent it out. It can be circulated easily. Once it has been sent, it will be impossible to gain control over the material again. No matter how much effort you put in deleting the photo or video at different places, it can always show up at another place.
Often materials are sent or exchanged between people who are close with each other. A girl might send naked photos to her boyfriend. The problem is that this girl can never be sure what her boyfriend will do with the photos during the relationship and when the relationship is over. Not only can her boyfriend distribute the materials on the Internet, he can also blackmail her with the materials.
It is a horrible situation when you have sent something personal to someone you trust and that trust is violated. However, it can happen to everyone and the only way to prevent such situations is never to send materials that could embarrass you when they go public.
If you or someone you know has sent something that you or person you know regrets now, try to consider the following:
- Do not start to panic. Really, this is a serious situation, but it is not the end of the world. The situation will not become any better when you panic.
- Consider if it is possible that the sent-out materials are not yet distributed. You can ask the person who you send the materials if he or she can delete them.
- If the materials have been distributed, or someone is being blackmailed with the materials, you can contact APLE or police and discuss what to do about the situation.
In some situations, people may send you pornographic content. Keep in mind that if you receive a pornographic picture of an underage child, do not open, save or forward it to someone else because this act is prosecutable.
A significant part of all children worldwide and also in Cambodia has a Facebook account. For most people, Facebook and other social media are innocent websites. However, perpetrators also know these sites and use them to identify and get a relationship with vulnerable children.
Furthermore, anything that is shared on social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc. is hard, if not impossible, to remove later. Thus, there are some serious safety concerns that you should keep in mind while using Facebook.
The Internet provides individuals with great opportunities, but can also be dangerous. There are simple rules everybody can apply to increase their safety and reputation while using the Internet:
- Never share personal details with anyone over the internet. You do not know what will happen with the information. As with everything that you share through the Internet, you have to remember that you lose control over it.
- Never meet people in real life whom you only know through the Internet. People can easily hide their real identity online. It is therefore impossible to trust someone you have only met through the Internet.
- Set your privacy settings as high as possible. On all social media sites, you can set your own privacy settings. On most sites, the privacy settings are standard very low and you have to change that in order to stay safe.
- Never add people on Facebook and other social media that you don’t know. You do not want these unknown individuals to have access to everything you post on social media.
- Be careful posting photos or videos of yourself. Keep in mind that after you have posted something on social media, you have lost all control over that material. Those who can access the material can do what they want with it. Think carefully before you post something.
- Never share your passwords with anyone. When you do share your password, the person you give it to can access your account and act in your person.
- Google yourself. See what others can find when they search you. This gives you an idea how much someone can know about you before they actually know you.