While the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) places an emphasis on protecting, supporting, and advocating for victims of child sexual abuse year-round, April brings with it an additional focus on those who have suffered. Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is a time dedicated to encouraging survivors to share their stories to promote healing as well as awareness regarding both sexual violence and web-based dangers. To this end, RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country, commissioned a survey in cooperation with YouGov to determine caregiver and parent awareness of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) online. This content can span any materials including videos, images, and livestreams of children, the nature of which allows them to be shared and dispersed across the internet, which creates repeated victimization of children throughout their lives.
The survey results indicated a pressing need for technology providers and legislators to provide greater protections for vulnerable populations including children. “We hear parents loud and clear: We need to work harder to stop online child sexual abuse,” said Scott Berkowitz, RAINN founder and president. The survey explored caregiver understanding of the existence and dangers of CSAM and how they’re taking active measures to protect their children. According to NCMEC, as of 2021, there were an estimated of 85 million images and videos of CSAM reported to its CyberTipline. Of those 1,000 parents and caregivers surveyed, 84% said they were aware this content was available online.
While over 80% of those surveyed felt they could protect their own children, 82% also felt that technology and social media companies should make greater strides in protecting against CSAM. “Parents are demanding more action from tech and social media companies, law enforcement, educators, and policymakers. In particular, they want to see a quick response, expecting that social media companies report illegal materials to law enforcement within 24 hours and remove illegal materials within 24 hours of being reported,” Berkowitz explained. RAINN supports all these expectations through its advocacy and educational programs.
There are several ways these control solutions can be implemented to further protect minors from CSAM and exploitation. Enhanced parental controls can provide caregivers with more oversight of what content can and cannot be provided on the internet. Clearer pathways for reporting CSAM content can also be established, making it easier to remove materials before they’re perpetuated. This is critical, given the tie between CSAM-related crimes and physical abuse: Studies suggest that over 50% of suspects in such offenses commit hands-on crimes as well. Every nine minutes, a child is a victim of sexual assault and abuse, making the need for more robust monitoring and quicker response times crucial for their ongoing recovery and well-being.
RAINN President Scott Berkowitz also commented on the importance of placing survivor stories at the forefront — especially during the month of April. “April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and RAINN is focused on stopping children from being exposed to or exploited for CSAM, urging Congress to provide more funding to investigate those exploiting children, and providing survivors the help they need.” Examples of recent legislation action supported by RAINN include the reauthorization of the Protect Our Children Act of 2022 and current efforts to lobby for the Earn It Act and the Project Safe Childhood Modernization and Reauthorization Act. Every endeavor supported by RAINN is designed to create more safeguards for victims in the judicial system, to prevent exploitation and crime in the first place through education and advocacy, and to help bring perpetrators to justice.
These efforts are pivotal since the effects of sexual abuse on any victim, particularly minors, can be enduring and damaging to both physical and emotional health. Those who suffer from child sexual abuse and exploitation are four times more likely than non-victims to experience PTSD or abuse drugs as adults, affecting their quality of life in the long term. Receiving support through a network of staff and volunteers helps survivors cope with their experiences, find help, and seek justice they otherwise believed impossible. Having served over 4 million people since its founding by Scott Berkowitz, RAINN, of which Berkowitz is also president, has become a vital partner to over 1,000 local sexual assault service providers. RAINN also operates a dedicated hotline for U.S. Service members for the Department of Defense.