CSAM: Understanding the Topic and Prevention Tips for Caregivers

Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), or child pornography, is any content that shows sexually explicit activities involving children. CSAM can include photographs, videos, digital or computer-generated images. This type of material used to be called child pornography (the legal term), but because the word pornography implies consent, which a child can never give, many agencies are encouraging a shift. CSAM is a more trauma-informed, survivor centered name for this form of sexual abuse and exploitation of a child.

How Big of a Problem is CSAM?

In a recent article by MIT Technology Review, it was revealed that the United States hosts more child sexual abuse content online than any other country in the world. “The US accounted for 30% of the global total of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) URLs at the end of March 2022, according to the Internet Watch Foundation, a UK-based organization that works to spot and take down abusive content.”  https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/04/26/1051282/the-us-now-hosts-more-child-sexual-abuse-material-online-than-any-other-country/

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that in 2023 alone, their CyberTipline received 36.2 million reports, containing more than 105 million files.

NCMEC’s Child Victim Identification Program, which helps to locate and rescue child victims in abusive images, has reviewed more than 273 million images and videos and law enforcement has identified more than 16,700 child victims.

It is against federal law to share or possess CSAM of any kind. It’s important to note that state age of consent laws do not apply under this law, meaning federally a minor is defined as anyone under the age of 18. You can view more about the federal law here: https://www.justice.gov/criminal/criminal-ceos/citizens-guide-us-federal-law-child-pornography

Protecting Kids

Children 10 years old and younger account for 22 percent of all online obscene-content consumption in the 18-years-old-and-under category.

The internet, social media accounts, video games, and email are all used to share and solicit CSAM material. Because these are things almost every family and child have access to and use regularly, parents and caregivers can help protect their children by following these tips:

  • Talk to children about keeping their bodies safe. No one should ever take pictures of their bodies without clothes on and if this happens, tell a safe adult.
  • No one should ever be showing children pictures of people with no clothes on.
  • Talk to children about what to do if those images pop up on a screen – turn off the monitor, click the x button, put the device down, and go tell a safe adult.
  • Talk to children about why it’s not safe if someone is asking for those pictures.
  • Explain the risks of people online offering things through social media or buying them things in video games. Ask your child what would they do if someone offered to buy them something in a video game in exchange for a picture?
  • It is also very important that parents and caregivers talk to youth about the risks of taking nude photos. When a child takes pictures of their own body without clothes on, this is known as self-generated CSAM (SG-CSAM). It is illegal and there is no safe way to have this content or share this content with others. Children can unwittingly contribute to the circulation of material if they send these photos to someone else.
    • Children may fall victim to sharing pictures with people who have groomed them.
    • Explain to children and youth how we never really know who has access to pictures after we share them. What happens to those pictures when relationships end.
  • Talk to youth about sextortion and what to do if someone ever threatens them over these photos. For more information on sextortion visit: http://cacofniagara.org/understanding-sextortion-how-parents-and-caregivers-can-help-protect-youth/
  • Make sure children and youth know that no matter what happens, they can come to you for help.

Exposure to CSAM

According to NCMEC, “CSAM exposure can be traumatic for you and your child. You may have feelings like shock, anger, sadness, and disgust at what you have seen. You may find it hard to get the image out of your head. You may experience nightmares, trouble concentrating, or forgetfulness about things that should be easy to remember. These are very common reactions that can disrupt your sense of safety.”

Children who are survivors of CSAM may feel a range of emotions as a result of the trauma, including feeling anxious, depressed, or fearful. NCMEC has a great resource to help with coping from CSAM exposure if this is something you or your child has dealt with: https://www.missingkids.org/content/dam/missingkids/pdfs/NCMEC_0022-20_CSAM%20Brochure_Digital.pdf


You may have heard a lot about AI (artificial intelligence) in the news. People are now creating AI generated CSAM or using AI tools to alter photos of real children to create new CSAM. The technology is also being used to create hundreds of new images of children who have previously been abused. As the Internet Watch Foundation reports, many of the children found in AI generated images are being revictimized as older CSAM is being used to “customize” new content with AI tools.

Organizations like NCMEC are taking action and advocating for laws to be put in place to protect children from AI-generated CSAM. As recently as March 12, NCMEC testified before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Government Innovation to discuss trends NCMEC is seeing with AI.

More needs to be done but caregivers can start protecting children by having open conversations about these topics and educating children on the risks of AI, and by advocating for laws that protect children from AI generated CSAM. For more information on the work that NCMEC is doing on this topic, you can visit this link: https://www.missingkids.org/blog/2024/generative-ai-csam-is-csam

Staying Safe with Devices in Your Home

As with all types of sexual abuse, talking with children and youth about these issues can help with prevention. If you are looking for additional ways to ensure safety on your devices, RAIINN has some great tips for parents and caregivers:

  • Ensure that your devices, including computers, smartphones, and tablets, have up-to-date security software and firewalls installed. Regularly update your software and applications to protect against vulnerabilities
  • Use strong and unique passwords for your accounts, including email and social media platforms.
  • Be cautious when clicking on links or downloading files from unknown sources.
  • Familiarize yourself with privacy settings and use them to control who can access your personal information and content.
  • Enable parental controls on devices used by children to restrict access to inappropriate content.
  • Teach children about safe online practices, such as not sharing personal information or images with strangers online.
  • Encourage open communication with children, so they feel comfortable discussing any concerns or incidents they come across.
  • Report CSAM to the CyberTipline online or by calling 1-800-843-5678. You can also report CSAM to Law Enforcement.



NCMEC – Take it Down – https://takeitdown.ncmec.org/

NCMEC – Is Your Explicit Content Out There? – https://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/isyourexplicitcontentoutthere

Thorn – The Intersection of Technology and Child Sexual Abuse Material – https://www.thorn.org/child-sexual-exploitation-and-technology/


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