CSEC + Trafficking

Work with and for Survivors to Promote Healing and Keep Children Safe

Photo showing legs and feet of children sitting on a bench

Every year, Child Abuse Prevention Month pushes us to focus on the ways in which we can engage our communities to better protect children—in the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) world, we say that the shared goal of our efforts is to work ourselves “out of a job.” We combine forces to unify our messages and speak with a louder voice so that everyone will listen. Together, we want to see stronger children, more protective adults, and engaged community members who prioritize keeping children safe.

But we come up against deep knowledge gaps and fundamental misinformation about the nature of child abuse and neglect. For example, when a “trusted adult” is arrested for child sexual abuse in our community, we’re the ones who roll our eyes while everyone else raises their eyebrows in surprise. People across our communities have preconceived notions about not only who victimizes children, but also the real impact of this abuse. While we’ve come a long way in describing how child abuse and neglect impact long-term health, we’re far behind in measuring and conveying the impact of child sexual abuse images circulated online.

The proliferation of these disturbing images and videos online represents a unique prevention challenge for our field. Last year alone, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) received more than 18 million reports on its CyberTipline of suspected child sexual exploitation, the vast majority child sexual abuse images. The lack of control of both the files’ existence and their global circulation leaves survivors struggling in their recovery. So, when we discover that the sexual abuse of a child has been documented in photos or videos that are then shared online, how can we prevent ongoing revictimization and reduce its long-term impact on survivors?

Now, there’s hope. The idea that once you post something on the internet, you’ll never get it back is being challenged with growing success. NCMEC is helping survivors whose images are being circulated online. We’re using new technology and working with like-minded partners to identify and flag content for removal from electronic service providers’ servers. Thanks to these public-private partnerships, we can now say that something can be done to limit the spread of these child sexual abuse images. Survivors can take quick action when they’re made aware of their images or videos online by contacting these providers to request they be taken down. With tools like this, we can empower and equip law enforcement officers and child advocates to support survivors in their quest to recover from and thrive after their victimization.

We’re confronting this challenge hand-in-hand with survivors. We must not only develop technology tools to stop their continued trauma but also incorporate survivor voices into a multidisciplinary, community-based approach to recovery. NCMEC is committed to supporting professionals who provide survivor services along the full continuum of care after the abuse has stopped. This can be accomplished by creating a network of mental health therapists specializing in child sexual abuse image cases, educating legal professionals on how to seek restitution and represent survivors in court, and increasing awareness of the unique and sensitive nature of this crime to law enforcement and other child advocates.

We cannot forget that the most important voices in prevention are those of survivors—their experiences can show us where critical gaps exist while also compelling support for these types of programs in a way that speaks passionately to donors, community members, and other stakeholders.

Let’s work to put us all out of work—CACs responding to child sexual abuse in local communities as well as the NCMEC analysts who respond on a national level to child sexual abuse images. We can achieve this lofty goal by working together to promote healing and reduce the trauma of today’s child victims and prevent the creation of future victims of child sexual abuse.

Eliza leads the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) education, outreach, training and prevention efforts. Prior to joining NCMEC, she served as the director of development and operations for the Center for Alexandria’s Children.