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There exists a small but growing increasing body of empirical data on the characteristics and experiences of children depicted in CSAM/CSEM. Typically, these studies have been conducted by competent agencies charged with the management of CSAM/CSEM, and in the context of a very small number of police-academic collaborations, where researchers have been granted mediated access to these collections, and where the reported data was distilled from the materials proper and/or their associated case files.Early analyses of offender collections seized by law enforcement (e.g. Baartz, 2008; Carr, 2004) suggested that the preponderance of files in seized CSAM/CSEM collections featured Caucasian girls of Westernised appearance.; a According to both analyses Asian children comprised the second most common ethnic group represented in the image collections. These trends were latterly borne out in the findings of the first systematic study of a randomised selection of sexual images retrieved from a UK police database (ChildBase).
Here, Quayle and Jones (2011) determined that the odds of CSAM/CSEM featuring female versus male children were about 4 to 1, while the odds of an image featuring white children rather than non-White children were about 10 to 1. While White children dominated the sample, again Asian children featured second most commonly in the images, followed by Hispanic-Latino and black children. Further information on the profile of victims derives from analyses of cases where child victims have been identified from the imagery (e.g. NCMEC, 2017b; Seto et al., 2018). Seto et al. (2018) performed an analysis of identified victims notified to NCMEC by U.S. law enforcement over a three-year period (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2014). Their dataset comprised 1,965 cases involving one victim and one offender (one relationship) and 633 cases involving“multiple relationships” between victims and offenders. In the one relationship subgroup, victims were predominantly white (85%), pubescent (61%), female (76%) with non-familial relationships (74%) with white (86%) male (98%) offenders. In terms of the relationships between victims and offenders, the review of the one relationship subgroup established that most children (64%) were abused by someone known to them – either in their nuclear family (11%), extended family (16%) or a non-family member known to the child (37%).
Similarly, in the multiple relationship subgroup, victims were again prominently female (62%) with non-familial relationships (59%) to male (82%) offenders. The higher proportions of white girls depicted in CSAM/CSEM cases reported here is consistent with other, recent studies of identified cases in other jurisdictions. In their analysis of the characteristics of 687 cases of identified UK children Quayle, Svedin & Jonsson (2017) reported that approximately two-thirds of children depicted in the cases were female and 93% were white. In so far as proportions of“self-generated” or“youth produced” sexual imagery have been categorised in these national studies of identified CSAM/CSEM cases, all have supported the contention that this material has become more prevalent in identified CSAM/CSEM cases. NCMEC (2017b) reported that 9% of its 1,048 identified CSAM/CSEM seriescases featured“self-generated” content. However, it should be noted that these identified cases were limited to those serieschildren whichose materials had been“actively traded” online, and in many“youth produced” CSAM/CSEM cases, the produced content were not widely distributed.
Quayle, Svedin & Jonsson (2017) reported that 44.3% of identified UK cases were self-taken, with 34.4% produced in a coercive and 9.9% in a non-coercive relationship. These authors reported that the prevalence of“self-taken” imagery is not a recent phenomenon in identified cases in the UK. Since 2010, the number of“self-taken” images each year has exceeded more than 40% of the total number of images in the UK (ICSE-connected) Database. Analyses of CSAM/CSEM have also attended to the abusive and exploitative experiences of children depicted in the imagery. Perhaps the first comprehensive analysis of the severity of sexual victimisation depicted in online CSAM/CSEM was conducted by the staff of the COPINE at University College Cork, Ireland. In this seminal study, Taylor, Holland and Quayle (2001) attempted to identify the scope of abusive and exploitative activity that was featured within CSAM/CSEM in order to create an objective measure of the different levels of sexual victimization within the images. The resulting 10-point“COPINE Scale”, latterly subjected to an assessment of reliability and construct validity by Merdian, Thakker, Wilson and Boer et al. (2013), identified that a broad spectrum of victimization was apparent within CSAM/CSEM. Depicted victimisation ranged from Level 1 -“indicative” imagery, at the lowest end of the continuum (featuring non-sexual images of children in swimming costumes, family albums or other licit settings where the context or the manner in which the picture was organized by the collector indicates inappropriateness), through Level 6 –“Explicit Erotic Posing”, where an explicit emphasis on the genital areas of a child was apparent, to Level 10 –“Sadistic/Bestial” at the extreme end of the continuum, where children were depicted in an act of sexual torture or in a sexual act with an animal.
Moreover, the severity of sexual victimisation has also been categorised with attention to other paraphilias in the imagery. In this context, the depiction of other“problematic paraphilias” (Hammond, Quayle, Kirakowski, O’Halloran, & Wynne et al., 2009) – themes of sexual deviance related to illegal or non-consensual activity such as bestiality, coercive sex or necrophilia – are significant in that they are aggravating factors in the child’s abusive or exploitative experience, and they provide important corollary information in the assessment of the nature and severity of the child’s victimisation. For example, in its recent analysis of the severity of sexual victimization depicted in actively traded series, NCMEC (2017b) reported that 83% of its analysed series contained images depicting close-up exposure of the child’s genitalia and/or anus, 60% of the series contained images depicting manual stimulation, 38% of the series contained images depicting oral copulation, and 48% of the series contained images depicting anal and/or vaginal penetration. Other paraphilic themes also featured prominently in the depicted abuse and exploitation of children, with 8% of the series containing images depicting bondage and/or sadomasochism, 24% of the series depicting ejaculation, urination and/or defecation and 1% of the series containing images depicting bestiality.
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