Message of the Day: Human Rights










‘Hunting Grounds’ for Sexual Predators, The New York Times, December 8, 2019


For the third time in just ten weeks, The New York Times yesterday had its Sunday cover dominated by the issue of child sexual abuse. It was the third installment of its investigative report on the issue and its additional unmitigated horrors on the internet, Exploited.

We were going to post on another issue today, connecting many issues, anniversaries, endings and beginnings.

But as the Times instructed in the first Sunday cover story, the rest needs to wait.

In our post on that first report, we commented:

There is no more influential or widely read front page article in the world than the lead in the Sunday New York Times.

This one is particularly striking for a number of reasons.

First, it is sandwiched in the middle between two other headlines, a common practice at the Times.

But the other two stories aren’t common.

One is on the impeachment inquiry about President Donald Trump.

The other is about the 70th anniversary of the founding of The People’s Republic of China.

Two critical stories about the first and second most powerful and influential nations on earth, at the crossroads internally, with each other, and in the world.

But these headlines are lost, as the graphic for the main story covers the majority of the page, with 88 images of children sexually abused on the internet, a collage of artistic photography obscuring the images for privacy, which only increases the impact.

Placed strategically between the images are the following three statements in black boxes and white letters:

Last year, tech companies reported over 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused — more than double what they found the previous year.

Each image shown here documents a crime. The photos are in a format analysts devised to protect the abused.

Twenty years ago, the online images were a problem; 10 years ago, an epidemic. Now, the web is overrun with them.

With the headline in the print edition, “Child Sex Abuse on the Internet: Stolen Innocence Gone Viral.”

The Times deserves a special salute for putting the failure to protect children front and center among global issues where it belongs.

The subject is the ugliest of humanity’s blights, which the article points out is enabled by society-wide avoidance, because it’s too ugly of a mirror.

Never forget those words as you read on.

We’ve covered this issue at length and in depth globally in our series, The End Of Civilization As We Knew It, Part Seven and a related post on January 23 this year.

The focus of this outstanding investigative report in the lead for the Sunday New York Times is the sexual abuse of children on the internet in the US, and the failures of the government, the tech companies, organizations–and everyone in society.

And in our post on the second report, we noted:

The second installment of The New York Times special investigative series, Exploited, on child sexual abuse, and its exploitation on the internet, is here.

As we noted when the series began, nothing quite like this has been done before.

Again, the Times and the reporters, Michael H. Keller and Gabriela J.X. Dance, deserve special admiration and gratitude from all of us–and we mean all of humanity–for bringing this most horrible of crimes and its digital aspect to the eyes of the world in a way only the Times can in some ways.

As we’ve pointed out for years, half of all children are abused and probably at least half of those are sexually abused.

As we’ve also pointed out for years, one second of not acting to prevent the sexual abuse and other abuse of a billion children and not helping adult survivors in every way necessary, is another second in enabling the abuse, ongoing trauma and destruction of their lives.

And, as we’ve also pointed out for years, the human species will not survive unless this is ended.

Lastly, as we’ve pointed out for years, the digital aspect of this horror has multiplied it in incalculable ways, making it, like everything else in the digital age, globally available in real time to everyone.

A global shared experience that needs to be wiped out above all others.

Child Abusers Run Rampant as Tech Companies Look the Other Way is posted online by The New York Times today, and the dominating front page article in tomorrow’s Sunday print edition, under the headline, Child Sex Abusers Elude Flimsy Digital Safeguards.

As with the first article, The Internet Is Overrun With Images of Child Sexual Abuse. What Went Wrong?, also dominating the front page of the Sunday edition on September 29, the visual is deeply moving and heart-rending, this time a photo of two sisters hugging and comforting each other, unidentifiable, who are survivors of child sexual abuse.

The third report on the front cover of the Times yesterday focuses on video games and social media, titled, Video Games and Online Chats Are ‘Hunting Grounds’ for Sexual Predators.

Here’s an excerpt:

Sexual predators and other bad actors have found an easy access point into the lives of young people: They are meeting them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps, making virtual connections right in their victims’ homes.

The criminals strike up a conversation and gradually build trust. Often they pose as children, confiding in their victims with false stories of hardship or self-loathing. Their goal, typically, is to dupe children into sharing sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves — which they use as blackmail for more imagery, much of it increasingly graphic and violent.

Reports of abuse are emerging with unprecedented frequency around the country, with some perpetrators grooming hundreds and even thousands of victims, according to a review of prosecutions, court records, law enforcement reports and academic studies. Games are a common target, but predators are also finding many victims on social platforms like Instagram and Kik Messenger.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that the tech industry had made only tepid efforts to combat an explosion of child sexual abuse imagery on the internet. The Times has also found that the troubled response extends to the online gaming and chat worlds, where popular and successful companies have created spaces that allow adults and children to interact, despite efforts to create some safeguards. …

“The first threat is, ‘If you don’t do it, I’m going to post on social media, and by the way, I’ve got a list of your family members and I’m going to send it all to them,’” said Matt Wright, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security. “If they don’t send another picture, they’ll say: ‘Here’s your address — I know where you live. I’m going to come kill your family.’”

The trauma can be overwhelming for the young victims. An F.B.I. study reviewing a sample of sextortion cases found that more than a quarter of them led to suicide or attempted suicide. In 2016, a Justice Department report identified sextortion as “by far the most significantly growing threat to children.”

It makes sense the gaming world is where many predators would go: It’s where the children are. Almost every single teenage boy in America — 97 percent — plays video games, while about 83 percent of girls do, according to the Pew Research Center.

In many states, gaming counts as a team sport and can earn players a varsity letter. Colleges offer scholarships to elite gamers, and cities are racing to establish professional teams. The industry is enormously profitable, generating over $43 billion in revenue last year in the United States.

There are many ways for gamers to meet online. They can use built-in chat features on consoles like Xbox and services like Steam, or connect on sites like Discord and Twitch. The games have become extremely social, and developing relationships with strangers on them is normal.

In many instances, the abusive relationships start in the games themselves. In other cases, adults posing as teenagers move conversations from gaming sites and chat rooms to platforms like Facebook Messenger, Kik and Skype, where they can communicate more privately.

“These virtual spaces are essentially hunting grounds,” said Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law and president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit group dedicated to combating online abuse.

As the piece points out, 97% of boys and 83% of girls play video games. That’s an extraordinary statistic of concern for many reasons by itself.

And now, 97% of boys and 83% of girls exposed to the threat of sexual abuse in video games, and how many more on social media platforms?

One of the commentators in the report said people ask, “Who’s to blame — schools, society, parents?”

“Well, it’s all of us.”

Here’s the article:

Video Games and Online Chats Are ‘Hunting Grounds’ for Sexual Predators

Criminals are making virtual connections with children through gaming and social media platforms. One popular site warns visitors, “Please be careful.”