2 million reports
This year the CyberTipline received its 2 millionth report of suspected child sexual exploitation. Now, 15 years after we started the program, seems like an appropriate time to reflect on how we got here, what has changed and, unfortunately, what hasn’t. We asked Michelle Collins, our vice president of the Exploited Children Division to share her thoughts.
4,500 was just the beginning
The CyberTipline was created in 1998, the same year I began working at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. It began as the place where concerned members of the public could report possible child sexual exploitation. In its first year of operation, the CyberTipline received 4,500 reports.
We now receive double that number each week.
In the beginning we would receive reports of sexually abusive images of children from people who stumbled upon them on websites. Or we would receive reports submitted by parents who were worried about an online relationship between their child and an unknown person.
Fifteen years later, while we receive many reports just like those described above, the majority are submitted by U.S.-based electronic service providers like Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter. When these companies become aware of apparent child pornography being hosted or shared on their systems, they report the incident and suspected user to law enforcement via the CyberTipline.
The online industry is doing more than ever before to combat child sexual exploitation on their networks. And while more must be done, there are countless committed private-sector partners who are willing to explore how they can better protect children.
Law enforcement responds
In the early days of the CyberTipline, I remember opening a “law enforcement” version of a phone book and cold-calling police departments. I had to explain who our organization was, why I was calling and finally would ask: “Can you please accept this CyberTipline report regarding a child in your jurisdiction?”
At that time, most police departments didn’t have a specific division responsible for online crimes against children. While tedious, these phone calls ultimately introduced us to law enforcement officers all over the country who were willing to jump in feet-first and tackle this new digital crime.
The same year that the CyberTipline was created came the birth of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces. The CyberTipline works closely with these ICACs and federal law enforcement partners. We rarely receive CyberTipline reports regarding jurisdictions where there isn’t a law enforcement agency ready to accept the information.
Efforts to curtail the online exploitation of children are increasingly international. And today, with the click of a mouse, we are able to refer CyberTipline reports to law enforcement agencies in more than 50 countries. Standing at the fax machine in 1998, none of us would have envisioned such a streamlined system.
I have seen so much change for the better in the past 15 years. We receive more CyberTipline reports. There are more highly trained law enforcement officers investigating crimes against children. International law enforcement agencies are collaborating at an unprecedented level. The online industry is voluntarily implementing proactive measures to attack child pornography.
But there is one thing that hasn’t changed. There are people who continue to use the Internet to find child victims, trade sexually abusive images of children and seek others who share a sexual interest in children. This is why the CyberTipline exists and is more important than ever.
The CyberTipline allows everyone a place to report suspected child sexual exploitation. If you see it, report it. A child, somewhere, is counting on you.
If you encounter suspected child sexual exploitation, or suspect a child is endangered, don’t hesitate. Call 1-800-THE-LOST or report through http://report.cybertip.org.