About Project Safe Childhood (PSC)
In 2006, the Department of Justice launched Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.
What is Child Exploitation?
Child sexual exploitation is a type of sexual abuse perpetrated on children and youth, in which the victims are forced, coerced, or enticed by an adult to engage in sexually explicit conduct.* The victims are both male and female, range in age from infants to 17-years-old, and come from all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Child pornography is a form of sexual exploitation that is defined as “any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor." Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, receipt, or possession of any image containing child pornography.
*The act of sexually abusing a child (rape, assault, molestation) is typically handled by local and state authorities. However, the act of producing photographs or video recordings of the abuse or distributing/receiving/viewing child sexual abuse online is subject to federal prosecution.
How Are Children Sexually Exploited Online?
- Children are abused and their abuse is recorded and shared on the internet via online forums, social networking sites, messaging apps, file sharing sites, or the “dark web.”
- Children are enticed online. Predators prey on children via internet-accessible platforms, including social media, messaging apps, and gaming systems, such as XBox or PlayStation.
- Children develop “a relationship” with someone online who convinces the child to share sexually explicit content of themselves.
- Children are “sextorted,” threatened by an individual with whom they have been “chatting” online. The predator seeks sexually explicit content in exchange for keeping quiet about a secret that was shared or, if the child has already shared a sexualized image of him or herself, the predator could threaten to blackmail the child if he or she does not share more content – content that is often required to be more sexual in nature.
- In some cases, predators do not entice children online only for sexual content, but in the hopes of enticing a child to meet in person to have sex with the child.
It is important to note that once an image or video is disseminated via the internet or text message, it cannot be retrieved. Millions of sexual predators are continuously sharing and swapping child pornography across the globe. It is uploaded, downloaded, texted, and instant messaged at rapid speeds.
“Child sexual exploitation is a crime whose victims are, by definition, vulnerable and often totally defenseless. Advancements in technology have made it easy for online predators to prey on children through social networking sites, gaming systems, and messaging apps. In response, my office is committed to two things: prosecuting perpetrators who seek to exploit children, and teaching children, parents, and educators how to keep children safe online.” – Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell
PSC and the U.S. Attorney's Office - District of MA
In addition to prosecuting those who prey on and sexually exploit children, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts has a robust PSC public education and outreach program aimed at combating and preventing technology-facilitated crimes. The Office’s PSC team regularly makes presentations to communities throughout the Commonwealth on how to keep children safe online.
If you would like to host a PSC presentation for students, parents, or other groups in your community, or if you have questions regarding the District's PSC program, please email us at USAMA.PSCOutreach@usdoj.gov.
How to Report Possible Exploitation
- Please call your your local authorities, or
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipLine at 1-800-843-5678.