The number of websites selling child sexual abuse material for crypto has doubled yearly since 2018. According to the data shared by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a charity foundation aiming to minimize the count of child sexual abuse images and videos hosted anywhere in the world. The data comes when regulators worldwide crackdown on illicit trade involving cryptocurrencies.
IWF warns about rise in websites accepting crypto for child abuse
IWF identified about 250,000 websites in 2021 that contained child abuse material, of which 1,000 accepted crypto payments. The number rose astoundingly from 18 in 2018, doubling every year. Despite the crypto winter, the IWF predicts the number of such websites accepting crypto will increase in 2022, albeit less sharply. Perpetrators paid more than half of the transactions in Bitcoin; other popular coins were Dogecoin and Ethereum.
Darren Young, from the child sexual abuse and exploitation unit of London’s Metropolitan Police, shared similar statements. Predominantly, Perpetrators paid most services for trading or live-streaming child abuse material around the globe in crypto.
In 2021, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a US government-funded non-profit organization, received 29.3M reports of alleged child sexual abuse, up 35% from 2020.
The perpetrators believe that cryptocurrencies give them the anonymity to involve themselves and transact child abuse material globally. Banks and cryptocurrency exchanges can play an essential role in identifying and stopping these activities. “This is the next front in removing financial motivations for exploitation and trafficking,” shared Eric Olson, a strategic advisor of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC).
The fact that the trade volumes keep rising indicates that perpetrators make money off the trade.
War against child abuse material
While the number of websites accepting crypto for child abuse material is still low, the rising numbers have brought the need for measures to curb this emerging trend. The war against sexual child abuse material requires a multidisciplinary approach involving technical experts and law enforcement agencies. That is the approach used by organizations looking to prevent child abuse by perpetrators.
IWF works with over 175 member countries and organizations like Coinbase, Apple, and Amazon to combat child sexual abuse imagery. In March 2022, a Coinbase study identified 69,000 user accounts that allegedly were associated with child sexual abuse material. Coinbase forwarded the user account details to law enforcement agencies.
“Today IWF analysts regularly see child sexual abuse imagery for sale online in exchange for virtual currencies. The trade-in pictures of abuse are not a victimless crime. The possibility that a record of their suffering could be traded or viewed online at any time haunts the survivors of sexual abuse. It’s a new level of abuse. We’re here to stop it.” IWF.
IWF also premiered the use of Virtual Currency Alerts. Cryptocurrency companies can use the service to get real-time notifications when a perpetrator uses a digital currency to trade child sexual abuse materials. Cryptocurrency exchanges can identify user accounts associated with illicit trade on their platforms. Along with the alerts, IWF provides the companies with the metadata of the imagery used in the business, preventing staff from viewing distressing images. “Through receiving these Alerts we can help our law enforcement and private sector customers work together to eradicate the commercial distribution of these images,” said Jonathan Levin, CRO Chainalysis.
Blockchain technology, a growing child sexual abuse industry, and little expertise in tracing criminals have made investigating perpetrators difficult. The dark side of the crypto industry is neither palatable nor easy to solve. Therefore, there is a need to adopt new technology, train programs for investigators, improve cross-border communication, and increase access to resources to bring perpetrators involved in child sexual abuse to book.