While any child that uses the internet is potentially at risk of OCSE, there are different risk factors which increase chances a child will fall victim to OCSE:
Vulnerability of children is a main factor which increases children’s chances of becoming victims of OCSE. Children who are more prone to offline sexual abuse are also more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation when they are online. Children who are vulnerable are more easily manipulated by offenders who deceive them by exploiting their emotional and physical needs. Vulnerable children may suffer from:
- Physical/mental health disabilities
- Special education needs
- Depression, emotional insecurities
- Children who are out of school, are marginalised, who have problems at home etc.
- Children who have already been victim to sexual abuse and exploitation, either online or offline, are also more vulnerable and are at higher risk of becoming victimised.
All of the above situations increase children’s vulnerabilities and make them more susceptible to grooming and online risks.
2. Gender of victims
While child sexual abuse and exploitation that happens offline is known to affect boys and girls almost equally, in cases of online child sexual exploitation, girls are more often the victims. According to database studies on CSEM, about 65% of CSEM have at least one victim who is female as opposed to 35% of CSEM depicting boys.
Despite girls being the main victim of OCSE, the percentage of boys who are also affected by online sexual exploitation is still substantially high and should not be disregarded. Furthermore, when boys are the victims, the sexual offences against them tend to be much more violent and aggressive in nature.
The average age of children who are being sexually abused online is continuously decreasing and it seems that there is more demand from offenders for CSEM that involve very young children and even infants. This alarming trend intensifies the urgent need for action and awareness raising to stop these atrocities from happening. Research on CSEM showed that although children from all ages are victims of CSEM, the majority of cases (56.2%) depict prepubescent children and 4.3% showed very young children (infants and toddlers). This is despite the general belief that it is mostly older children who are affected by OCSE. The rest of CSEM featured pubescent children (25.4%) and children of multiple ages (14.1%).
4. Online behaviour of children
Children need guidance from adults on safe behaviour to make sure they are aware of the consequences of their actions. This is not different in the online world. Many online practices which are currently held by children put them at increased risk of OCSE:
- Complies easily to online demands
While some child sex offenders disguise themselves online, some children know and understand they are communicating with an adult. Children are used to do as they are told by adults. It may be very hard for them to decline adult’s requests, or think that they even have a say in the matter. When an adult approaches a child, even when it is online, they are more likely to feel compelled to do as they say, and will not realize they can refuse. Lack of awareness on the negative consequences of their actions also increases their likelihood of doing as requested.
- Shares personal information online
Any information online has the potential to reach the eyes of unwanted recipients. Children are less likely to understand what kind of information is too personal and should not be exposed for anyone to see. Some personal information can be used by child sex offenders to learn more about the child and more easily manipulate the child.
- Does not understand the importance of password protection
Passwords are used to keep user’s information online safe and accessible to the user only. When lacking the importance of keeping personal information safe, the passwords they will use tend to be weak, and they will also more readily share their passwords with others.
- Easily interacts with strangers online and befriends them
Meeting new people online is one of the main enjoyments for children While it can be positive and improve children’s social life and allow new friendships, it also has great risks when the wrong person is trying to befriend the child. Children need to receive tools on how to be critical of strangers they meet online and how to apply the safest way to engage with them.
- Strong desire to increase online popularity
Children will usually put great importance into online popularity. In order to gain more “likes” or followers they will be more inclined to add more online friends and followers, regardless of who they are. This allows more strangers online to gain access to children and their personal information, increasing their exposure to risk.
- Takes many selfies and uploads them online
Once a photo is uploaded online, it becomes extremely hard to remove and has the potential of being copied and shared, making it impossible to know who has access to it.Even when pictures are not sexually explicit, they pose risk to children. Online offenders are known to use photo-editing softwares to make a photo look like the child is partaking in sexual behavior and use it to extort the child.
- Enters unknown links or pornographic websites
While child sex offenders are known to actively expose children to pornography, sometimes children are exposed to pornography on their own, either accidentally or willingly out of curiosity on the matter.
It is important to remember that it is natural for a child to be curious about sexual relations. However, it is your role as a practitioner working with children to ensure that they learn that no matter how they are exposed to pornographic material, it increases their risk of becoming sexually exploited by others.
Help children understand that pornography should not serve as a means to learn about sexual relations and that it depicts unrealistic sexual relations which encourage abuse and violence and should not be imitated, particularly as a child. Learning about healthy relationships and consent is key in preventing children from entering these situations of risk.
5. Use of certain online platforms
While the use of any online platform can expose children to risk of OCSE, there are some common platforms which are currently used by children that enable child sex offenders to easily gain access to them. Online offenders will take advantage of children’s use of these platforms to initiate contact with children, learn more about them, and utilise them during their grooming process.
In Cambodia, the most common online platforms currently used by children exposing them to risk of OCSE include:
- Social media and communication platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, FB messenger, line and skype, are platforms with some of the greatest risks for children online.
These are some of the main platforms used by offenders to groom children, communicate with them, send them indecent material and request children send them CSAM.
- Online gaming communities – Besides the fact that online games often contain intense violence and sexual content which is inappropriate for children, communication through these platforms allow offenders to contact children, gather information and gain their trust before offering to communicate via other social media platforms or in person.
Many games also require users to pay money, which can put users in debt, particularly children who don’t have the money to pay for these features. This leads children to look for other ways to borrow money, putting them in a vulnerable situation which perpetrators can exploit.
Popular online games in Cambodia include: Rules of survivor, AK2, PUBG and GTA 5
- Live streaming applications often contain options where the person broadcasting the video can talk to their audience or even send gifts which can be exchanged as monetary credit. The main risks include exposure to inappropriate sexual content, nudity and pornography, and children’s use of the app to broadcast CSEM in return for payment and send it to others. Popular live streaming apps include: TikTok, Bigo Live and YouTube
Watch this video by CEOP to learn more about the risks children face online
Keep in mind that online applications and platforms are constantly shifting and advancing, making it hard to keep up with what children do when they are online. Try to stay involved in children’s internet use and stay updated to technological changes.