A new analysis of an international database of child sexual-abuse cases found that the victim in 5 percent of the cases was an infant or a toddler, and a surprising percentage of the abusers were women.
The study, “Towards a Global Indicator on Unidentified Victims in Child Sexual Exploitation Material,” was done by EPCAT International, a global network of 102 civil societies and organizations in 92 different nations.
Funded by the European Union, it analyzed photos and videos in INTERPOL’s International Child Sexual Exploitation database.
Disturbingly, the study found that the younger the victim, the more severe the abuse was likely to be. The study looked at ages, ethnicity and the likely location of the filming of the abuse.
If found that the vast majority of online child sexual abuse material is made by those in the victim’s circle of trust.
That means “identifying the victim is a priority, because as well as providing an opportunity to remove the child from harm it is often the first step in identifying the offender.”
It noted that there are limitations to the conclusions, because about half the world’s population lives in nations that are not connected to the database yet.
The analysis found 65 percent of the victims were female, 31 percent male and the rest of the offending material depicted both male and female victims.
“When boys were depicted in the abuse, it was more likely to be severe or involve paraphilic themes,” the report said. “It is often considered that most victims of sexual abuse and exploitation are girls. However, the significant proportion of boys depicted in unidentified images and videos in the ICSE Database invites closer attention to this group.”
More than three-quarters of the victims analyzed were white children, 10 percent Hispanic or Latino, 10 percent Asian and small percentages black, the report said.
“The ethnicity may be a proxy indicator for the location of the abuse or exploitation.”
On ages: “Where the unidentified victim’s age could be determined, 56.2 percent of cases depicted prepubescent children, 25.4 percent were pubescent children, and 4.3 percent were very young children (infants and toddlers),” the report said. “When victims were younger, the abuse was more likely to be severe.”
The report said it is “often assumed that victims of sexual abuse are older children.
“This may be due in part to increased media attention and public awareness surrounding the risks associated with young people’s use of technology and the internet, including the production of youth-produced material, but it may also be due to the fact that most people find it hard to imagine the extreme sexual assault of an infant. While the victimization of any child of any age is inexcusable, over 60 percent of unidentified victims in this study were prepubescent, including very young children (infants and toddlers). This finding highlights the need to reflect and potentially prioritize this age group in policy and programming.”
In cases in which the gender of the offender could be determined, 92.7 percent were male, and female offenders often were depicted with a male.
“It was almost always the males who recorded the sexual activity, while the female offenders were actively involved in the abuse of the child(ren),” the report said.
“In cases where females abused a child on their own … these lone female offenders appeared younger in age (some apparently in late adolescence or young adulthood) than those depicted abusing a child together with a male.”
The report said the role played by females “is apparently complex, particularly in terms of distinguishing females who act as proponents or facilitators of this crime, or both.”
The report also noted that experts could determine that 72 countries were identified as locations for the abuse.
INTERPOL officials said there are more than 1 million media files of child sexual exploitation and abuse in the group’s database.
The extremes reviewed in the study included gross assault, sadism, bestiality and even necrophilia.
“Unfortunately most people do not realize that when we talk about child abuse, we are also speaking about very young children, babies who are just months old, being the victims of extreme sexual assault,” said Bjorn Sellstrom, INTERPOL’s Crimes Against Children unit coordinator.
“Victim identification is at the core of INTERPOL’s work in connecting global investigations into online child sexual abuse. This report underlines the need for more countries to connect to the ICSE database and become part of this important network of investigators dedicated to rescuing child abuse victims,” he said.