The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has a new tool in its fight to find and eliminate child sexual abuse material on the internet.
"What you do need to understand for the victims of these crimes, these horrific crimes, the idea of knowing that their worst moments of their lives are on the internet for anyone to see is absolutely debilitating," said Lianna McDonald, executive director of the CCCP.
"So today we change that."
On Tuesday, the Winnipeg-based agency introduced Project Arachnid, an automated system that searches links on websites previously reported to Cybertip.ca.
It looks for child sexual abuse material and detects where the images and videos are publicly available on the internet. A notice is then sent to the provider hosting the content to request its removal.
Reputable providers will take down illegal content when they are notified of its existence, said Signy Arnason, director of Cybertip.ca. However, police may be triggered into action for those that may choose not to take it down.
"The practice of notice and take down has been in existence for over five years [and] last year alone we sent out over 12,000 notices. Ninety-eight per cent came down within 22 hours."
"We know from survivors who, as children, had their sexual abuse recorded, that coming to terms with the ongoing sharing of their abuse images and its public accessibility can be one of the most difficult aspects of the abuse to overcome," said a release from CCCP.
"We believe the most important outcome of Project Arachnid will be the psychological relief offered to survivors that have had no control over the distribution and ongoing sharing of their recorded sexual abuse.
"For the first time, we are offering survivors some comfort in knowing there is a system solely designed to find and trigger the removal of this illegal content."
Day-in and day-out, child abuse survivors must manage the ongoing impact of knowing their imagery has been recorded and shared online. By curbing the public availability of that, it helps address the very real fear that someone they know may come across one of those images, CCCP said of Project Arachnid.
'Raped all over again'
Victims applaud the new tool, as they feel revictimized every time someone looks at their images online.
"They are trading around my trauma like treats at a party and it feels like I am being raped all over again by every one of them. It sickens me to the core, terrifies me and makes me want to cry," said a woman who spoke on condition of anonymity. "So many nights I've cried myself to sleep thinking of a stranger somewhere staring at their computer with images of a naked me on the screen."
She said it's hard to move on from the trauma.
"Every day people are trading and sharing videos of me as a little girl being raped in the most sadistic ways. They don't know me, but they've seen every part of me. They are being entertained by my shame and pain."
Another victim said she worries every time she's in a grocery store whether men are looking at her and recognize her from the abuse videos.
'More difficult to find'
"For those unidentified children whose abuse continues or those children whose abuse has been newly identified, using Project Arachnid to detect and send notices for removal can help prevent their sexual abuse recordings from becoming popularly traded on the Internet," CCCP said.
"If content is removed quickly, it ultimately makes it more difficult to find."
The innovative tool detects content at a speed exponentially faster than current methods, according to CCCP, which said in a recent six-week trial period, Project Arachnid:
- Processed over 230 million web pages.
- Detected over 5.1 million unique web pages hosting child sexual abuse material.
- Detected over 40,000 unique images of child sexual abuse.
"We have known for some time that the problem is significant and it is growing. This is based on the increase in reports handled by Cybertip.ca each year, the fact that the number of individuals charged with child pornography offences increases in Canada every year, and the collections seized have grown exponentially," CCCP said.
"Now, for the first time we are able to paint an accurate picture of the public availability of child sexual abuse material online. This information will reinforce why more than ever Canada needs to do everything it can to address this heinous crime."
Parent ID'd as abuser in many cases
The need for Project Arachnid was based upon Cybertip.ca witnessing the growing proliferation of child sexual abuse material and was further validated by an international survey of abuse survivors, CCCP said.
The survey was developed to better understand the challenges faced by survivors, whose abuse as a child was recorded and in many instances distributed online. As of January 2017, 128 survivors from around the world have contributed information about their experiences, CCCP said.
Some of the preliminary results include:
- 73 per cent of survivors worry about being recognized by someone because of the recording of their child sexual abuse.
- Nearly 60 per cent of survivors indicated that the single/primary abuser was a parent.
- 56 per cent of survivors indicated that the abuse began between the ages of zero to four and of those, more than 60 per cent indicated that the abuse continued into adulthood.
- 52 per cent involved organized sexual abuse (abuse that involves children being subjected to sexual abuse by multiple offenders).
- 67 per cent of survivors were threatened with physical harm and of those, 43 per cent were told they would die or be killed.
- 82 per cent of survivors anticipate needing ongoing/future therapy.
"Project Arachnid is using technology to counter the years of misuse by offenders and to help end the cycle of abuse," said McDonald.
One day the agency hopes to identify images as quickly as they are posted, rather than playing catch-up to the millions of photos and videos that exist.
"The future of Arachnid is also very promising," McDonald said.
"Instead of us relying and chasing these images around after the fact and watching these numbers propagate and grow exponentially, we are very optimistic that in the future we will be able to choke new images as they become available so that future victims of tomorrow will not be facing the reality that the survivors of today have had to live with."
The survey continues to be available, and CCCP encourages other survivors to participate.