Towards a Global Indicator on Unidentified Victims in Child Sexual Exploitation Material

INTERPOL and ECPAT International

Ground-breaking research released by INTERPOL and ECPAT International into the online sexual exploitation of children suggests that when online images or videos of child sexual abuse depict boys or very young children, the abuse is more likely to be severe.

The research included a visual analysis of a sample of images and videos stored by INTERPOL in the “ICSE Database,” which is an investigative tool containing media seized by law enforcement around the globe and used as evidence in criminal enquiries. Researchers categorized and analyzed its content to better understand patterns of offending and victimization.

The study “found a link between the age of the victim and the severity of abuse.” When victims were younger, the abuse was more likely to be extreme. It was also found that very young children were more likely than older victims to be subjected to abuse and exploitation that featured additional “problematic paraphilic themes,” (sexual behaviour that risks causing another person psychological distress, injury, or death).

The researchers made the same link between severity of abuse and gender of the victim. “Boys made up a significant proportion of victims and videos and images featuring boys were more likely to show severe abuse material that features problematic paraphilic themes,” says the report.

84 percent of the sample of images or videos visually surveyed contained explicit sexual activity, gross assault, sadism or other “problem paraphilia.” More than 60 percent of unidentified victims were prepubescent, including infants and toddlers, and one third of victims were boys says the report.

More than 12,000 victims have been identified in the database, but it remains difficult to accurately determine the number of unidentified victims. According to ECPAT International, because the vast majority of online child sexual abuse material is made by those in the victim’s circle of trust, such as coaches, teachers and care givers, identifying children in abuse material can be crucial to locating offenders.

Other messages from the study:

  • Law enforcement officials face multiple challenges in identifying victims and offenders, even with powerful tools such as the ICSE Database;
  • A significant proportion (61 percent) of analysed series contained images and videos that were both abusive and exploitative in character, and in the vast majority of the analysed series from child modelling sites, both abusive and exploitative material was visible;
  • Accurate determination of core characteristics of victims such as age is a challenge, particularly across ethnic groups;
  • Even though most offenders were male, there are some females involved in the abuse and exploitation of children – and more needs to be understood about this phenomenon; and
  • The phenomenon of ‘youth-produced sexual imagery’ appears to present a challenge to international law enforcement, both in terms of the detection and integration of this imagery with international image databases, and the identification and classification of its victims.


Find more information online here.

Filed Under Child Pornography Marsh Law Firm Blog 

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