The creation and sharing of sexually explicit content featuring children under the age of 18 is running rampant online, in part because of online platforms like Pornhub. Videos depicting child abuse and non-consensual violence are common across pornographic sites, which typically allow members of the public to post their own content. These sites have little to no accountability or control when it comes to the content being posted by platform users because it’s impossible to ensure each individual in a video is a consenting adult.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the number of images, videos, and other content related to child sexual exploitation reported to the organization each year has increased exponentially in the past five years. In 2015, NCMEC received reports of 6.5 million videos or other files; in 2017, 20.6 million; and in 2019, 69.2 million. Social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter have also noted an increase in violating content that sexually exploits or endangers children. This increase presents a significant threat to child safety and well-being—particularly to children who have access to their own devices.
As parents and educators, it's crucial to protect children from the threat of exploitation and exposure to sexually explicit content. When students have their own devices to access social media, messaging, email, and an internet browser, they are immediately at risk of being exploited or exposed to content that exploits other children. A 2018 study by The Conversation found that one in five youth between the ages of nine and 17 will come across unwanted sexual material online, and one in nine teens will receive unwanted online solicitations. And during the first three months of the 2020–21 school year, Gaggle recorded a 135% increase in incidents of Nudity & Sexual Content compared to the same time frame during the 2019–20 school year.
There are two important measures for parents, educators, and districts to take to protect students from viewing sexually explicit content online and from being sexually exploited. First, it’s critical for parents and teachers to instill good digital citizenship in children, providing them with the guidelines and tools to stay safe and respectful to others online. Not only does this protect children from encountering unwanted content and solicitations, but it also helps to minimize situations of cyberbullying related to sexual material and rumors.
The second step that educators and districts should take to protect students from sexually explicit content and exploitation is to implement a safety management solution. Gaggle Safety Management uses machine learning technology to flag concerning content in students’ school-issued accounts and block potentially harmful content so it doesn’t reach students. Gaggle also offers web filter support to streamline the review of flagged student searches and protect students in the event of an imminent threat.
While the issue of child exploitation is widespread, these proactive measures can help to keep students safe both online and offline. Open communication with children about the dangers of viewing and sharing sexually explicit content is an important step in lowering the rates of child sexual exploitation online. And for the situations where children may still encounter harmful content in the virtual environment, Gaggle can help protect students by blocking and flagging content for review.