Parent/Caregiver National Survey on Protecting Children Online

While the internet is indispensable to our lives, it does have a dark side: pictures and videos that capture the sexual abuse of children are more common, and easier to access than ever.

In response to this epidemic, for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 2023, RAINN commissioned a survey from YouGov to determine parental/caregiver awareness of online dangers for children and young adults. The survey also explored parent/caregiver expectations of personal and institutional responsibility for protecting children from being exploited or exposed to child sexual abuse material.

Child sexual abuse material, also referred to as CSAM, is any content that depicts sexual activity with a minor. In 2022 alone, there were 85 million images and videos of child sexual abuse online which live on the internet forever. Simultaneously, younger people, ages 12-24, are at the highest risk of sexual violence for rape and sexual assault. As younger people have become targets of this epidemic at an alarming rate, exploring the findings of the National Survey of Parents is critical for awareness of and prevention of sexual violence against children online.

The national survey of 1,000 US parents/caregivers of children between 8 and 21 years old found that:

  • 84% of parents surveyed (87% of men and 82% of women) said they were aware that child sexual abuse material exists online.  Only about 2 out of 10 parents surveyed say they are not aware that child sexual abuse material exists online.  
  • Nearly 3 in 4 parents surveyed see CSAM as a serious problem (80% of women and 64% of men). 
  • Mothers and older parents surveyed were more likely to see the problem as very serious, while younger parents (those under 30) were much more confident in their own ability to protect their kids. 
  • This trend is driven by women surveyed, of whom 80% perceive CSAM as a serious problem, compared to 64% of men.
  • More than 8 in 10 parents and caregivers surveyed felt at least fairly confident that they can protect their children from exploitation.
  • 9 in 10 parents and caregivers surveyed feel moderate or total responsibility to protect their children from CSAM.

However, parents and caregivers want more help keeping their children safe:

  • 82% of parents/caregivers surveyed feel that technology and social media companies should do more to combat viewing or creating CSAM.
  • 76% of parents/caregivers surveyed feel that law enforcement and lawmakers should do more to combat viewing or creating CSAM.
  • 85% of parents/caregivers surveyed feel that policymakers and elected officials should do more to stop the spread of CSAM.

Policy Control and Solutions

Over two-thirds of parents would like strict security measures taken on social media sites, such as parental control options, removing illegal materials, and reporting illegal materials to authorities to protect kids and teens from sexual exploitation.

  • 70% of parents/caregivers believe that parental controls should be included as options for users under 18.
  • 65% of parents/caregivers believe that illegal materials should be removed within 24 hours of it being reported.
  • 68% of parents/caregivers believe there should be a report of illegal materials to law enforcement within 24 hours.

Facts about the CSAM crisis: 

  • Child sexual abuse material (CSAM) - images, videos with audio, even live streaming of children being sexually abused, including infants - can be accessed across the globe instantly, resulting in the victimization of these children over and over again.
  • Last year the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's (NCMEC) CyberTipline received over 32 million reports, the highest number of reports ever received in one year. 
  • According to NCMEC, as of 2021, there were an estimated of 85 million images and videos of CSAM reported to its CyberTipline. 
  • The U.S. Department of Justice-funded undercover systems detected over 325,000 unique IP addresses distributing child sexual abuse material (CSAM), most of which are not being investigated. 
  • Studies say that more than 50% of suspects in CSAM-related crimes also commit hands-on offenses against children in their communities.
  • Less than 10% of annual leads identified in these undercover databases are under investigation due to limited resources.  The most serious cases are not necessarily the ones being investigated due to a lack of well-defined criteria for prioritization.  

The topic of child sexual abuse material is a difficult one. If you or someone you know needs to talk, know that support is available.

More findings can be found here.

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) offers help, information, and a live hotline to help in times of need. Visit their website at https://www.rainn.org/ or call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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