The use of the Internet for sexual exploitation of minors is growing exponentially, according to a new study reported on Friday. From interviews with survivors, Thorn researchers discovered that seven out of ten trafficking victims were advertised at some point on the Internet. Companies such as BackPage.com are often in the news as hotspots for such ads, and many sex trafficking sting operations have focused on this venue.
The explosion in number of personal devices that have ready access to the cyber world is part of the issue. Other factors include anonymity of the buyers and sellers, convenience of paying for transactions online and ease of dumping email addresses or websites that may come under investigation.
Besides Internet ads for real time sexual encounters with children, pornographic images of sexual assaults on minors are flooding the Internet. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children documented 17.3 million images reported to them in 2011, a 4000% increase from 2007. Many of these pictures or videos are taken without the victim’s knowledge and shared in subscriber sites across the world. In a survey of identified pornography offenders, 19% had images of children younger than 3 years old; 39% younger than 6 years old; and 83% younger than 12 years old. The most frequently submitted images of identified victims in the last five years reveals that nearly half add a level of additional violence (e.g., bondage, sadomachism) to the abuse of the children.
With over 22 million child porn websites across the globe and 10 million in the US, law enforcement officials face a never ending job of tracking and apprehending the predators. The federal government devotes several departments to cracking down on child sexual exploitation, and several states are following suit. An Arizona law, HB 2454, passed this year bringing stiffer penalties to traffickers and buyers, and specifically addresses the advertising side of the transactions:
- Makes use of a visual depiction of a minor in an advertisement for prostitution a class 2 felony and a dangerous crime against children if the minor is under 15 years of age.
- Creates requirement that licensed escorts, escort businesses, massage therapists, and massage therapy businesses must include their license number in any advertisement for services, as well as to keep on file proof of the age of anyone depicted in an advertisement for services. Failure to do so results in a civil penalty.
The Arizona law is now in effect, beginning July 24, 2014.
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