Public Safety Canada Webinar Series
Combatting Online Child Sexual Exploitation
Hosted by Public Safety Canada, 2022
Public Safety Canada (PS) leads The National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet (the Strategy), launched in 2004, and works in collaboration with Justice Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P).
In 2022, PS hosted a three-part webinar series on combatting online child sexual exploitation (OCSE). The objectives of these webinars are to provide updates on what is being done within federal, provincial/territorial jurisdictions, civil society and the private sector to advance efforts in combatting OCSE; share information on best practices and lessons learned; as well as facilitate discussions around gaps and challenges related to this crime.
This report provides a summary of the 2022 Webinar Series: Combatting Online Child Sexual Exploitation.
Webinar 1: Reporting Mechanisms, Tools and Emerging Trends in Online Child Sexual Exploitation (in collaboration with the RCMP), January 2022
Presentation 1: Online Child Sexual Exploitation: Opportunities and Challenges Related to Police-reported Data. Dyna Ibrahim, Analyst and Survey Manager, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics (CCJCSS), Statistics Canada
- A feasibility study was undertaken by Public Safety Canada and the CCJCSS to explore opportunities to expand data collection and analysis of online child sexual exploitation (OCSE).
- This study identified priority issues related to data collection including: a lack of information/knowledge around OCSE by both the general public (i.e. parents and community members) and professionals in the social sector (i.e. school counsellors and educators); technological advancements such as increased anonymity and encryption are increasingly impeding the identification of victims and offenders; a lack of understanding of the short and long term effects on victims and their families, as well as for employees working in this sector; and an absence of informative or quality resources to help treat or mitigate these effects.
- Data needs in relation to OCSE include: greater public awareness about OCSE, and access to information and support; prevalence (reported and unreported to police – charge rates), platforms used, and the occurrence of this offence in combination with other violations (i.e., human trafficking); types of online exploitation, frequency, recidivism (online to offline victimization); victim and accused characteristics (gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, geography), and their relationship; risk and protective factors, knowledge of online safety among children and their caregivers; and data reported by technology companies such as: reports on number of child exploitation images and web scraping for key terms, luring or grooming cases reported, and number of reports leading to police investigations and arrests.
Presentation 2: Trends and Challenges in OCSE investigations.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC)
- The mandate of the RCMP's NCECC is to reduce the vulnerability of children to Internet-facilitated sexual exploitation by: identifying victimized children; investigating and assisting in sexual offender prosecutions; developing and deploying innovative technologies; providing criminal intelligence support; strengthening the capacity of Canadian/international police agencies through training, operational research, and investigative support.
- The RCMP noted that police-reported incidents of possession, accessing, making, and distributing child pornography rose from 6,360 incidents in 2016 to 11,055 incidents in 2020, an approximate 74% increase in Canada. The increase may be attributed to an increase in the number of cases forwarded to local police services by the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC), the continued compliance with An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service (often referred to as the Mandatory Reporting Act, or MRA) and/or changes in online activity due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- The presenters identified the following current and emerging trends and threats: an increase in child sexual exploitation and abuse online; an increase in self-generated content; and live-streaming platforms and technologies.
Presentation 3: Canada's Project SHADOW, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC)
- The RCMP's NCECC noted the various Canadian public-private partnerships between 2016-2020, including the following projects: PROTECT (Human Trafficking); CHAMELEON (Romance Scams and Elderly Fraud); GUARDIAN (Fentanyl Trafficking); ATHENA (Money Laundering); and SHADOW (Online Child Sexual Exploitation).
- The goal of project Shadow is to further diversify Canada's response to online child sexual exploitation (OCSE) by addressing the financially incentivized aspect of this crime.
- In December 2020, the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC) became the project hub for processing project SHADOW information on behalf of agencies across Canada. Canadian financial institutions identify and flag financial activity that may be associated with OCSE based on identified suspicious indicators.
- The NCECC's Intelligence Unit will continue to process related disclosures as timely and efficiently as possible; will analyze related intelligence to generate overall trends; report on findings to domestic and international law enforcement and other partner agencies; support the LE community receiving related disclosures; and collaborate with involved partners on Project SHADOW with respect to new developments, challenges and successes.
Presentation 4: Modernizing Digital Investigations for OCSE Cases. Jad Saliba, Founder and CTO of Magnet Forensics
- Jad Saliba, founder and chief technology officer of Magnet Forensics , described the various tools and solutions that Magnet Forensics contributes to modernizing digital investigations for online child sexual exploitation (OCSE) cases.
- Magnet Forensics is a Canadian company focused on digital investigation software and is used by the global police community to assist in their criminal investigations. Their vision is to provide public and private sector organizations with innovative tools and solutions to combat the online crimes of today.
- Magnet Forensics is in the field of digital evidence solutions that support first responders, forensic labs, and entire agencies. They do this through: on-scene digital evidence collection; acquiring, analyzing and reporting on digital evidence (mobile, computer + cloud); workflow automation; case management; and digital evidence review and analysis platform.
- It was noted that law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed with the growth and complexity of digital evidence, while at the same time there is a shortage in skilled talent. Modern technology solutions can help alleviate key challenges in OCSE investigations, including reducing the length of time required to acquire evidence and in mitigating evidence retention issues.
Webinar 1 Discussion Highlights
- Panelists discussed challenges and gaps in combatting online child sexual exploitation (OCSE). The volume of reported cases combined with constantly evolving technology remain among the most concerning and challenging trends.
- Better data collection and analysis could support informed decision making among policy makers and those working with children and youth at risk of OCSE.
- The panelists spoke to the alarming rise in self-generated content and live streaming, highlighting the need for more awareness raising and education on the possible risks and consequences.
Webinar 2: Best Practices in Trauma-informed Care and Supports when Working with Victims of Online Child Sexual Exploitation (in collaboration with Justice Canada), February 2022
Presentation 1: Trauma- and Violence-informed Approaches: A structural and relational approach. Colleen Varcoe, PhD, RN Professor and Associate Director, Faculty Development School of Nursing, University of British Columbia
- Trauma-informed care (TIC) is a universal approach for use in all service settings and focuses on understanding the impacts of trauma and creating environments that promote emotional and physical safety for all.
- Trauma-informed care brings attention to: the broader social conditions impacting people's well-being; ongoing violence, including systemic/historical violence; and structural violence where discrimination, stigma and harmful practices are known to be embedded in the ways and systems people know and do things.
- Trauma- and violence-informed (TVIC) care includes policies and practices that focus on preventing harm, including re-victimization by creating safe environments for people who have experienced (and may still be experiencing) violence and trauma.
- Dr. Varcoe from the Faculty Development School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia spoke about the relevance of working with victims of online child sexual exploitation, and the need to view child sexual exploitation in context: how children are treated will impact risk and vulnerability across the life span; anticipated stigma; discrimination; victim-blaming will create anxiety (fear of disclosure, and avoidance of support); and social determinants of inequity/risk factors include historical, economic, physical, ideological factors, so that those children most at-risk get the required attention.
For more information on Trauma-informed care visit:
- Trauma and violence-informed approaches to policy and practice
- Victims of Crime Research Digest No. 9
- Trauma- and Violence-Informed Care Foundations Curriculum
Presentation 2: Accompanying the Child Victim and their Parent through the Legal Process and Reducing the Risk of Secondary Victimization. Geneviève Boisvert-Pilon, M.A., sexologist and psychotherapist, Fondation Marie-Vincent
- Ms. Boisvert-Pilon from the Marie-Vincent Foundation noted the consequences that may be associated with sexual violence (SV), including how challenges related to SV appear along a continuum from absence of, or minor difficulties, to the presence of severe difficulties in multiple areas of functioning.
- Personal spheres that may be affected by SV can include: social/relationship, academic, physical, cognitive, emotional/psychological, and behavioural.
- Disclosure itself can be a source of secondary victimization, depending on how the child experienced and understood it, and noted how understanding the background of sexual violence disclosure from the point of view of the child victim is essential.
- There can be consequences associated with legal involvement. Some potential negative consequences for the child's mental health include: anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, post-traumatic reactions, and denial. However, for some children, the experience of testifying can be positive, with the following positive impacts: feeling a sense of justice, feeling heard, acknowledging the victimization, a feeling of accomplishment, and a sense of redress.
- It is important to reduce the risks of secondary victimization. This can occur when victims face (or perceive) negative reactions from their family and peers and/or justice system professionals. Types of reactions that contribute to secondary victimization include a lack of empathy or understanding, being treated differently, being stigmatized, and victim blaming.
- Additional factors that contribute to secondary victimization include: lack of information provided to the victim about judicial proceedings; professionals' failure to listen to the victim's needs throughout judicial proceedings; the burden of proof resting on the shoulders of child victims; the multitude of strangers the child must face (medical examination, child protection services, etc.); whether the victim needs to face their attacker; if cross-examination is difficult; delays, adjournments, and extensions can exacerbate the child's anxiety or guilt feelings and contribute to secondary victimization.
Presentation 3: Trauma-informed Child Forensic Interviews. Detective Constable Dayna Boyko, Toronto Police Service
- Detective Constable (DC) Boyko from the Toronto Police Service explained that Child Forensic Interviewers are persons trained in a specific interviewing protocol and are most often police officers or social workers. These practitioners should be peer reviewed, and should receive ongoing training, education, and supervision.
- DC Boyko discussed key points of what constitutes a child forensic interview. Child forensic interviews are developmentally appropriate, legally sound, gather factual/sensory information, are conducted by a neutral professional, are research and practice informed, and are conducted using a structure or protocol which has been developed with consideration to research and best practices.
- Child forensic interviews are important because they consider the age/development/learning differences of the child and aim to ask questions in the most open-ended and neutral way possible. They allow the child to do the bulk of the talking and encourage as many details of the incident(s) as children can provide, giving them the best opportunity to provide information.
- Being trauma-informed when speaking with children is very important. Trauma in the interview room can look like many things. The following are examples: not being able to sit still/pay attention; hypervigilance; upset stomach, having to use the washroom a lot; saying "I don't want to talk about it"; wanting to leave the room; long pauses/blank looks; forgetting important parts of the event.
Presentation 4: A Trauma-informed Approach in the Criminal Justice System. Suvidha Kalra, Crown Prosecutor, Specialized Prosecutions, Alberta Justice and Solicitor General Crown Prosecution Service
- Ms. Kalra from the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General Crown Prosecution Service presented her four-step method of working with witnesses who have experienced trauma: mindfulness; relationship; regulation; and examination.
- Mindfulness is the ability to turn your awareness inside and notice sensations, emotions, and thoughts; relationship is important because the type of connection you build with your witness will dramatically impact the quality of evidence that your witness will be able to provide; regulation relates to the amount of autonomic arousal in an individual's nervous system. The key is taking the time to let your witness regulate before continuing with preparation or examination. Intervene quickly as regulated nervous system is the conduit to rich evidentiary details.
- If a witness gets outside the window of tolerance, either because of hyper-arousal or hypo- arousal, the witness will not have access to the frontal cortex, and will not be able to provide the detail rich evidence required. Additionally, the witness must remain in the window of tolerance to avoid re-traumatization.
- Once safety and regulation have been established, it becomes possible to conduct an "Embodied Examination". This type of examination allows the Prosecutor to access and elicit experiential information (emotional and sensation based) connected to the traumatic event. This type of detail is critical to a successful prosecution.
Webinar 2 Discussion Highlights
- Using a trauma-informed approach throughout the criminal justice process can help prevent re-victimization of victims and their families.
- When conducted properly by criminal justice professionals, trauma-informed interviews present the best opportunity to elicit compelling evidence on OCSE cases.
Webinar 3: Public Awareness and Research on Online Child Sexual Exploitation, March 2022
Presentation 1: Social Marketing Campaign on Online Child Sexual Exploitation. Erin Rogers, Marketing Manager and Julie Chan, Senior Communications Advisor, Public Safety Canada
- As part of the Government's priority: "Protecting Children from Sexual Exploitation Online," Budget 2019 included investments to increase awareness amongst parents and caregivers to combat online child sexual exploitation (OCSE).
- Public Awareness Research from 2020 showed that most Canadians think about OCSE as an issue that happens "somewhere else", with only 12% of parents and 9% of general population respondents considering OCSE a big problem in their neighbourhood.
- Further public awareness research conducted in March 2022, continued to show that most Canadians still think about OCSE as an issue that happens "somewhere else", with only 22% of parents and 18% of general population respondents considering OCSE a big problem in their neighbourhood. In 2022, 56% of parents said they were likely to report inappropriate images to the online platform and 46% would seek counselling for their child. Nearly half of parents (47%) report that their child has come to them to discuss questionable online activity that they have experienced or heard about from a friend or peer.
- Based on these results, Public Safety Canada's marketing campaign aimed to increase awareness levels of OCSE by: increasing public and parental understanding that children (persons under 18) who engage in sexting could be at risk; increasing awareness that OCSE could be happening in your own backyard or neighbourhood, and that it is not something that only happens "somewhere else".
Presentation 2: Awareness and Educational Resources on Online Child Sexual Exploitation. Noni Classen, Director of Education, Canadian Centre for Child Protection
- The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) is a national charity dedicated to the personal safety of children. Their goal is to reduce the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, assist in the location of missing children, and prevent child victimization.
- C3P encompasses many programs including: cybertip.ca, Canada's tip line for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children and providing support services; missingkids.ca, Canada's missing children resource centre; Commit to Kids, policies and plans to create safe environments for children; and Kids in the Know, a national safety education program for kindergarten to high school classrooms.
- C3P awareness and education programs use the social-ecological model framework for prevention. This ensures programs look at the individual, family, peer, community (child serving organizations, institutions) and societal (political advocacy and public awareness) influences on an individual.
- Over the last 5-7 years harms to children have amplified through evolving platforms and emerging trends and have escalated during the pandemic:
- Online Luring has seen a 106% increase during the pandemic (misusing technology to sexualize contact with children and youth; ages 8 to 17 (most common 13-year-old females);
- Non Consensual Distribution of Intimate Images (NCDII) - forwarding of intimate images has seen a 110% increase in reporting and 63% increase in youth reporting (people youth know offline and those not known to youth offline); and secretly recording;
- Livestreaming/sextortion (luring often moves into sextortion; youth meeting adults online and livestreaming sexual acts which turns into sextortion; 90% involve big tech social media/live streaming);
- Youth images appearing on adult pornography sites (also shared on popular social media platforms).
- With knowledge from over 3000 support service cases at C3P, Ms. Classen outlined additional trends in online sexual violence:
- Child sexual victimization, more often than not, now includes misuse of technology as a weapon (i.e. sextortion, silence, humiliate, power and control);
- Child sexual abuse/assault is increasingly recorded;
- It occurs both by people the child knows and those unknown;
- Both same age peers and adults are the ones victimizing children/youth;
- Both females and males are victims, and there are both female and male perpetrators (females are overrepresented as victims, males overrepresented as perpetrators);
- Increase in younger victims (8-12 year old) being instructed on what to do;
- Deception is central to the victimization – gender, age, guise of romantic relationship;
- Offenders intensifying control tactics, showing youth they know people they know, or their address (i.e., screen capture of contact list; sending items to their home or school; doxing (publishing private or identifying information about an individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent) them; and photoshopping (i.e. super-imposing their face on a naked body); and using multiple accounts to reach out to youth adding additional distress and pressure, continuing to contact when blocked.
Presentation 3: Online Child Sexual Exploitation: Offenders and Prevention Programs. Dr. Michael Seto, Director of the Forensic Mental Health Research Unit at The Royal's Institute of Mental Health Research
- Dr. Seto from the Royal's Institute of Mental Health Research Unit, discussed forms of online offending, including: accessing/possession/distribution of Child Sexual Exploitation Materials (CSEM); production of CSEM; luring/solicitation of minors; access/exchange of illegal pornography; facilitating noncontact offending; facilitating sexual trafficking and travel-to-offend; non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit materials; and sextortion.
- To set a baseline understanding of OCSE offending patterns, Dr. Seto shared an updated Meta-analysis by Babchishin et al. (2015). This study had 30 samples in total, and compared child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) offenders to contact offenders and dual offenders. They found that CSEM offenders had more online access, CSEM offenders were less antisocial, contact offenders had more access to children (e.g., residence, work), and dual offenders (off and online) were most likely to be pedophilic.
- Dr. Seto discussed the various types of solicitations including: requests for sexually motivated interaction, asking for CSEM, sending CSEM or adult pornography, sexual chat, webcam/livestreaming acts, and planning to meet for sex. Dr. Seto noted that these types of solicitation are not always luring/enticement or grooming - some tactics don't fit within the scope of these words (e.g., when a young person is threatened and coerced into sending CSEM) and so language choice is important. Solicitations occur on social platforms, encrypted messaging apps, and online multiplayer games with messaging.
- Citing the common practice of reacting to child sexual exploitation (i.e. disclosures to trusted adults, law enforcement and child protection services, victim treatment, incarceration, perpetrator treatment, new policies and laws), Dr. Seto suggested using a Public Health approach to the issue of OCSE, by supporting prevention programs.
- Prevention approaches include perpetration prevention, child and parent interventions, bystander interventions and technology interventions – all with overlapping efforts. Some examples of this model in action include Stop It Now! UK Helpline, Talking for Change (Canada), and Prevent It (Sweden).
Presentation 4: Study on the Availability of Child Sexual Abuse Imagery on the Internet. Jacques Marcoux, Director of Research and Analytics for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P)
- Discussing the centralized Canada-wide public reporting tool, Cybertip.ca, Mr. Marcoux outlined the following available reporting categories: Child Pornography; Luring; Child Prostitution; Child Sex Tourism; Child Trafficking; Making Sexually Explicit Material available; Agreement or Arrangement with another person; and Non-Consensual Distribution of intimate images.
- C3P has several core research projects, including projects on Canada-wide school personnel sexual abuse/misconduct, case study profiles on the distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) for specific victims, a CSAM user terminology list, international survivor/families surveys, and from data collected from Project Arachnid.
- Project Arachnid is an innovative digital tool to combat the growing proliferation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the internet. Project Arachnid systematically "crawls" the open internet, including Dark web, searching for suspected CSAM. If the digital signatures of the suspected media (known as "hash values") matches against databases of previously verified CSAM, a notice is automatically sent to the hosting provider requesting its removal. If no match is found, analysts review and classify the suspect images which may also trigger the issuance of a removal notice. Arachnid is used internationally, and is one of few sources of data on the distribution of CSAM. Arachnid is sending 7,000 – 10,000 notices for removal of known CSAM every day. At a glance, Arachnid has had 129+ billion images analyzed, 41+ million images of suspected CSAM detected, 10+ million notices for removal sent to providers, Backlog 35+ million images requiring manual review, and approximately 15% of victims in Arachnid are identified.
Webinar 3 Discussion Highlights
- Most Canadians think about online child sexual exploitation (OCSE) as an issue that only happens "somewhere else," and not a big problem in their neighbourhood.
- More effort needs to be made towards raising awareness and educating children and youth to help prevent OCSE victimization in the first place.
- As part of a comprehensive approach to addressing OCSE, perpetrator prevention programs should also be further explored in Canada.
Public Safety Canada would like to thank the presenters and participants for sharing their valuable expertise, knowledge and experience on combatting online child sexual exploitation (OCSE). Without their contribution and participation, the 2022 webinar series on OCSE would not have been possible.
A total of 611 participants attended this three-part webinar series. Participants included a cross-disciplinary audience of partners and stakeholders working on combatting OCSE including Canadian law enforcement, child-serving organizations, victim services and other non-governmental organizations, the education sector, and federal, provincial, territorial, and local governments.
Based on post-webinar survey results, 82% of participants said they gained a deeper understanding of emerging trends, current issues/gaps and best practices in the fight against online child sexual exploitation. Furthermore, close to 80% of participants said the information provided during the webinar would help inform their current or future work. This underscores the importance of sharing information, disseminating knowledge, and inter-jurisdictional collaboration in order to more effectively prevent online child sexual exploitation, prosecute offenders, and support individuals affected by these crimes.
The Government of Canada takes the issue of OCSE very seriously and is committed to working with Provinces/Territories, other levels of government, non-governmental organizations, digital industry and other domestic and international partners and stakeholders in combatting the complex crime of OCSE.
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