Initiative to Support Child Sexual Abuse Survivors

Auch auf Deutsch

Survivors’ Survey: Results and Recommendations

  • Message for Survivors

    If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse, please know that our team is working hard to make positive change happen for you and for future generations of survivors.

    We believe change is coming.

    It is important that we share with the public the reality of what we are seeing and hearing from survivors, and what we are learning through our research and technical solutions.

    If you feel reading this information and our report might be difficult for you, or if you find yourself feeling distressed after reading it, we encourage you to reach out to supports in your community. This could include personal supports (family and friends) or professional supports (therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselling and crisis response agencies). The online exploitation and abuse of children is a growing problem and we are invested in finding solutions that will prevent this crime and provide protection and support to those impacted by it.

    If you would like to speak to us about your experience, or if you have questions about this survey, email us here.

Survivors’ Survey: Results

In September 2017, the Canadian Centre released results from our International Survivors’ Survey for now-adult survivors whose child sexual abuse was recorded and/or distributed online, with recommendations to address this horrific crime. Responses from 150 survivors from around the world have contributed valuable information about their experiences.

Some of the results include:

  • Almost 70% of the survivors worried about being recognized by someone because of the recording of their child sexual abuse – 30 respondents reported being identified by a person who had seen their child sexual abuse imagery.
  • 58% of respondents reported having had more than one person abusing them – 82% of the primary offenders involved in multiple offender scenarios were parents or extended family members of the child.
  • 56% of the survivors indicated that the abuse began before the age of four, and 87% were 11 years of age or younger. 42% were abused for more than 10 years.
  • At least 74 respondents (nearly 50%) were survivors of organized sexual abuse (abuse that involves children being subjected to sexual abuse by multiple offenders).
  • 67% of the survivors were threatened with physical harm including being told they would die or be killed.
  • 85% of the survivors anticipated needing ongoing/future therapy.

What we learned from survivors:

  • 1. Recording the sexual abuse of a child has a significant, lifelong impact on the victim.

    The fact that images/videos of a child’s sexual abuse were created at all, as well as the fact that they may still be possessed by the abuser and be publicly available for others to access, has an enormously negative impact on the individual. The impact can persist into adulthood and may significantly reduce the ability of an individual to cope with day to day stressors, maintain healthy relationships, and reach their full potential in educational and occupational pursuits.

    Nearly 70% of respondents indicated that they worry constantly about being recognized by someone who has seen images of their abuse (n=103). Thirty respondents (30%) reported being identified by a person who had viewed the child sexual abuse imagery.

  • 2. Most victims were abused from a young age, by a family member, and for some continuing into adulthood.
    • For 56% of the survivors, the abuse began between age 0–4, and 53% of those respondents indicated that the abuse continued into adulthood.
    • 58% of survivors reported having been abused by more than one person – some by multiple family members.
    • 50% of the survivors abused by one person indicated that the abuser was a parent or extended family member, while 82% of the survivors who were abused by multiple offenders indicated that the primary abuser was a parent or extended family member.
    • 36% of survivors indicated that the sexual abuse continued into adulthood (18+).
  • 3. We should not rely on disclosure alone to stop child sexual abuse.

    There are a multitude of reasons why a child may not talk about the sexual abuse that is happening to them, the most prominent arising out of the power imbalance between the offender and the victim. Survivors reported that threats or physical abuse were commonly used thus serving to silence victims and maintain their compliance.

    While many survivors did tell someone about the abuse at some point, many did not do so while the abuse was still happening or until they were adults. Even more concerning, for those who did disclose their experiences as a child and while the abuse was still happening, the abuse did not always stop. Survivors reported that sometimes this was because what they were saying was not believed or because their abuser was able to manipulate perceptions, but sometimes it was because the persons who should have protected them once told, did not.

  • 4. Many survivors reported multiple offenders and/or multiple children involved in their sexual abuse.

    The Internet has provided an opportunity for offenders to connect and work together in an organized fashion to commit more and more extreme sex acts against children. The depraved and pervasive nature of the sexual abuse reported by many of the respondents was shocking. For example, 58% of survivors were abused by more than one offender, and 49% of survivors appeared to have been victims of ‘organized abuse’.

  • 5. The unique needs of survivors of child sexual abuse imagery are not being adequately addressed.

    Existing support services are not meeting the specialized needs of survivors. Not only is the victimization experienced by this population unique and complex, but the impacts of the abusive experience are long lasting and often lifelong. From what we have learned, not only do these survivors have incredible difficulty finding and financing the supports they need, but they require different levels and types of support at specific points in their development through adulthood. Short-term and generic trauma counseling will not lead these survivors to an adequate place of recovery.

Recommendations for change:

The survey results underscore the urgent need for the international community to take immediate action and implement the following recommendations:

Reduce the availability of both new and existing child sexual abuse images and videos on the public internet. Consideration should be given to adopting Project Arachnid as the global platform for quickly detecting and issuing notices to hosting providers that have an obligation to then immediately remove the material.

Improve education and training on the issue of child sexual abuse among professionals to empower them to recognize and respond appropriately. Those in a position to uncover abuse must better understand the dynamics of different abuse situations, the complex process of disclosure, and the role of technology in facilitating child sexual abuse.

Strengthen the coordination and communication between all systems and entities that intersect with victims of child sexual abuse and online exploitation. This includes, but is not limited to, child welfare, schools, hotlines, therapists, police, industry, child-serving organizations, and advocacy centres.

Develop comprehensive systems and remedies to properly recognize the rights and unique needs of victims whose abuse was recorded. This includes accessible, knowledgeable therapists and attainable mechanisms for receiving financial compensation. Survivors must also be provided with the opportunity to have their voices heard within the criminal justice system (e.g., victim impact statements).

The survey continues to be available and we encourage other survivors to participate in this important initiative.