Internet-facilitated child sexual abuse is a horrific and growing problem. The victims are getting younger, and the abuses more violent.
In its first special report, Every Image, Every Child, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime analyzes the issue of Internet-facilitated child sexual abuse and makes nine recommendations to the federal government on how to address it. The following is a brief summary of those recommendations.
Awareness and understanding
Language shapes how we see and understand an issue. For that reason, the term we use to describe the problem of Internet-facilitated child sexual abuse should be accurate and descriptive.
Currently, the term most commonly used for any sexual image involving a child is
"child pornography". This term is not just used in conversation; it is also used in law. Every Image, Every Child argues that this term is both inaccurate and dangerous in what it unconsciously conveys: a consensual sexual interaction. To address the issue properly, we must be honest and direct about its horrors.
Amend the child pornography provisions in the Criminal Code to provide a more accurate description of the crime and harm done (i.e. such as child sexual abuse images, child sexual abuse videos, child sexual abuse writings).
Investigation and rescue
Technology is important in helping police investigate cases where known child sexual abuse images are being shared or downloaded. One of the techniques police use is to identify the Internet Protocol or "IP" address linked to a computer with known child abuse material. Law enforcement can then take that number and ask the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to identify the name and address of the customer associated with it. It is very much like police looking up the licence plate of a car-it does not necessarily identify the driver, but it identifies the car and the address it is registered to, which helps police to begin their investigation.
Currently in Canada, ISPs are allowed—but not obligated—to provide police who do not have a warrant with customer name and address information. That means they can, and do, refuse to cooperate with law enforcement. While many ISPs do cooperate, 30 to 40 percent of requests are still being denied. In fact, law enforcement has identified their inability to get basic customer name and address information as the biggest challenge they face in investigating cases. Without this information, they may be forced to drop the case.
Many people fear that allowing police to get a customer's name and address without a warrant means they will have access to a wide variety of personal information, including Internet surfing records or medical records. This is false. Customer name and address information is just — that a name and an address. For any other searches, police are required by law to get a warrant.
Every Image, Every Child argues that we need to give police the tools they need to catch offenders and rescue abused children.
Recommendations 2 to 4:
- Require ISPs to provide customer name and address information to law enforcement.
- Introduce legislation to require ISPs to retain customer name and address data, traffic data and content data for two to five years.
- Introduce legislation to amend the Criminal Codeto make the refusal to provide a password or encryption code upon judicial order a criminal offence.
Police are using technology not only to catch offenders, but just as importantly to identify the children who are in the photos and rescue them from further abuse. This is done through
"image analysis" where police scour the photos for clues of where the children might be, such as a baseball cap from a local sports team or a hotel logo on a sheet or bed frame — any clue that might help police narrow down their search and help an innocent child. This kind of analysis is one of the best and only ways to help these children, but it takes time and resources. Every Image, Every Child urges the government to consider more support for this very important work.
Develop a national strategy to identify victims found in child sexual abuse images, which includes an expansion of the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre's National Victim Identification Unit and support for the national image database.
Victim support and assistance
Victims of Internet-facilitated child sexual abuse suffer a unique horror. Not only are they abused, but the evidence of their abuse is shared over and over again around the world, and can never be totally erased. Victims must live knowing that these images are still being used by collectors, and that they could surface at any time.
Unfortunately, very little research has been done to understand exactly how this unique abuse impacts victims, and what can be done to help them heal. One item that may provide much needed support is the Child Advocacy Centre — a child- and family-friendly resource.
Child Advocacy Centres follow a model, developed in the United States, which make children the priority. They bring together a variety of professionals and resources in one location, so victims are not forced to share their painful stories over and over again with law enforcement, lawyers, psychologists and others in a number of formal and intimidating settings. Research shows these centres, which are used to help all types of child victims, can reduce the cost of an investigation by up to 45 percent, and that they result in an increase in charges laid, better quality of evidence, more guilty pleas and higher conviction rates with more appropriate sentences. Families are also generally more willing to access services if they are on-site.
Every Image, Every Child encourages the federal government to learn more about how to help victims and to consider how to offer the valuable services of Child Advocacy Centres to victims across the country.
Recommendations 6 and 7:
- Develop a national strategy to expand the network of Child Advocacy Centre models in communities across the country.
- Fund research into the needs of victims of Internet-facilitated child sexual abuse.
Dissemination and distribution
Because we know that each time a child sexual abuse image is viewed the victim is re-traumatized, we have a responsibility to handle those images with care. That means strictly limiting the copying and sharing of those images, even when it comes to their use as evidence in the courts.
A fair trial is every Canadian's right, and defence council should be able to review the evidence against his or her client. However, the unique nature of this evidence should mean that we take extra care in how we share and distribute these images. Every Image, Every Child argues that we should not leave this up to chance and that a change in legislation is needed.
Introduce legislation to amend the Criminal Code to ensure that child sexual abuse images, video or audio recordings are not disclosed to defence counsel but that opportunities are made available for proper review of the evidence.
Through the use of the Internet, child sexual abuse images are being shared and collected in never-before-seen proportions. Although it is not possible to stop the flow completely, we can take definite steps to reduce the number and accessibility of images. One way is to create databases of known images and then to use software programs or filters that can identify and destroy an image when it is detected to be a match for a file in the database.
Introduce legislation to require all ISPs to block access to sites containing images of children who are or are depicted as being under the age of 18 years, and block the distribution of known child sexual abuse images based on images collected by the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre.
Every Image, Every Child provides an overview of the issue, a short history of progress to date and identifies a number of sizable gaps where children are falling through the cracks and offenders are gaining momentum. Each of the recommendations represents an opportunity to act-to make positive change and to protect vulnerable children.
The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime looks forward to swift and decisive action by the federal government on these recommendations.