On March 10, 2015, the Internet Watch Foundation published a report entitled “Emerging Patterns and Trends Report #1: Youth-Produced Sexual Content.” This study was conducted from September to November 2014 by sourcing content from search engines and other online sources. The findings are a bit shocking.

The images that the study assessed were broken down into two age categories. 82.5 percent of the sexual images were of adolescents age 16-20 while 17.5% were of children aged 15 or younger. The images were broken down into three categories: (A) images depicting penetrative sexual activity, sadism or bestiality; (B) non-penetrative sexual activity, and (C) no sexual activity but focus on the naked genitalia of the individual in the image. Most of the images fell into the C category. 53.1% of images of those under 15 and 72.4% of images of those 16-20 were in Category C. 44.8% of images of children15 and under were in Category B while 24.3% of 16-20 year old pictures were in Category B. Finally, 2.1% of children 15 and under had images in the Category A while 3.3% in the older age group had images in Category A. The images were predominantly of females.

One of the disturbing results of the study involves the distribution of these images. Though many of these images are produced by the child or adolescent themselves, the images get picked up by outside parties and redistributed without consent. The study showed that 100% of the images of children under 15 were harvested from the original websites and put up on third party sites. The images were harvested from mobile phone apps, chat sites and social networks.

The age break down of the images of those 15 and under is also quite concerning. Remember, all of the images in this study were PRODUCED BY THE MINOR themselves. The age breakdown is as follows:

14-15 year 14.5% of images

11-13 years 42.6% of images

7-10 years 40.3% of the images

The majority of the youth produced sexual images were created by children 7 to 13 years old. This is an age at which many parents don’t think their children are engaging in digital sexual behavior. Another concern raised is the severity of the content that those children under ten are creating. Almost 20% of the images of young children fell into Category B or higher.

How are children under 15 taking these pictures or videos? We tend to think that everything is done on a mobile phone these days but the study showed that 85.9% of the images were taken on a laptop/webcam and only 8.5% were on a mobile phone.

What do we learn from the numbers? We’ve got some things wrong.

  1. The media portrays sexting by adolescents as something that happens on mobile phones. Maybe that is true for older teens (this study did not specify) but for those children 7-13 years old, the main avenue for producing sexual imagery is on their laptop. Often this is occurring on their computer in a private bedroom. If a parent pops their head into their child’s room, it might look like they are simply doing homework but they may actually be webchatting with someone online.
  1. We need to start earlier. If children as young as seven are creating sexual imagery we need to start talking to them about these issues much earlier. Parents need to get out of denial and start talking to their children about cybersex. Some of these images are likely coerced by an adult who is either grooming them online or threatening them. However, some of the imagery is not coerced and voluntarily produced. We need to start educating earlier.

When I train, the statistic I refer to is that the average age of first exposure to online pornography is about ten years old. I always say that this is an older statistic and the age is likely younger. Time to wake up. While the study does not suggest that all or even a large number of 7 year olds are generating their own sexual videos or images, some are. This study shows us clearly that we need to start talking about this topic much earlier than we actually are.