Differentiating between online child sexual exploitation and offline child sexual exploitation is not always easy. Situations of online child sexual exploitation are not always restricted to the online world and the boundaries between online and offline child sexual abuse and exploitation are not always clear. Sometimes online communication is used for initial contact where abuse starts online and later moves offline. Or contact and/or abuse may start in an offline setting but it may later move to online sexual exploitation.
Online child sexual exploitation is defined therefore as “all acts of a sexually exploitative nature carried out against a child that have, at some stage, a connection to the online environment. It includes any use of ICT (Information Communication Technology) that results in sexual exploitation or causes a child to be sexually exploited or that results in or causes images or other material documenting such sexual exploitation to be produced, bought, sold, possessed, distributed, or transmitted” (Interagency Working Group, 2016).
While some cases of OCSE can involve physical contact between the perpetrator and the child, many cases of OCSE remain online without the child ever meeting the perpetrator in person. Even if there was no physical contact between the child and the offender, the impact can be just as severe and harmful as in offline cases.
Children who are sexually exploited online can be both boys and girls, both younger and older children, and can come from both high- and low-income families. Although children who already experience vulnerabilities and insecurities are more at risk, any child who is on the internet needs to know how to recognize the risks to avoid online sexual exploitation and apply safe online behavior.