5 Red Flags and 5 Tips to Protect Your Child Online

Child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is any content that depicts sexual activity with a minor. Most commonly pictures and videos, CSAM can live forever online, which leads to survivors being revictimized — and, often, retraumatized— repeatedly throughout their life.

In 2021 alone, more than 29 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation were reported by online platforms to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline, and that number is growing. Those 29 million reports included 84.9 million images and videos of CSAM.

Below are 5 red flags on child sexual abuse material and examples of how predators often operate in order to abuse children.

  1. Targeting the child. Predators can target children in an online chat, on social media, or during online gameplay. Predators may initiate conversations with children through direct messaging or comment on a child’s social media posts. They will pay special attention to a child or children online for extended periods of time.
  2. Gaining the trust of the child. Predators often lie about their age online and say that they are younger. They may display a persona that’s a bit older than the child and ask personal questions about the child’s parents/caregivers, teachers, friends, and other adults in their lives. Predators attempt to gain personal information about the child to create and establish a barrier between them and their network of trusted adults in order to isolate them and establish trust.
  3. Gifts and rewards. Many online platforms give predators the ability to give children gifts and rewards online to engage the child. In online gaming, predators may be able to give a child a gift card which may come across as innocent since they may not have access to purchase items for themselves. They may also be able to give money online if certain applications allow this interaction.
  4. Sexualizing the relationship. Predators may initiate conversations that become progressively more sexual online. They sometimes ask graphic questions, such as ”Have you ever masturbated or do you like to touch yourself?” A predator may also request sexually explicit images and/or videos of the child and may engage in sexually explicit conversations in direct messaging on the platform or may request the child’s phone number to talk offline.
  5. Maintaining Control. Predators attempt to maintain control and power over a child. They do this by monopolizing the child’s time and by pressuring them to send sexually explicit messages, videos, and photos. The relationship with the child can move from an innocent interaction online to interactions that become abusive and emotionally controlling.

Below are 5 tips for parents/caregivers on preventing child sexual abuse material.

  1. Talk to your child about online predators. Starting conversations with your child about online dangers and online sexual abuse is a great way to establish safety. Help them understand that sharing their personal information online can give predators access to establishing their trust. Talk to them about unhealthy online risks, which can include sending photos, videos, or engaging in sexual conversations. Make sure they know that when someone online asks to keep secrets or pressures them into sexual conversations, these conversations should be ended immediately and reported.
  2. Keep lines of communication open. Let your child know that they can come to you with questions or concerns about behaviors or problems that they have online. Get online with your kids and let them show you what they like to do. Ask questions about their online interests including websites, social media friends, and other activities to encourage open dialogue.
  3. Profiles of minors should be set to private. Setting your child’s profile private on social media and gaming platforms can mitigate online dangers. Monitoring your child’s friend requests includes making sure your child only accepts connection requests from people that they know in real life.
  4. Pay attention to your child's online interactions. Regularly monitor your child's technology devices. Monitor their conversations and pay attention to items that your child may have accepted including gift cards, money, or digital tokens on gaming platforms.
  5. Implement parental controls. Set parental controls on applications installed on your child’s phone. You can restrict which apps and websites your child views and set your child's profile to private.

Where can I report child sexual abuse material and get help?

  • You can report CSAM to the CyberTipline online or by calling 1-800-843-5678. Your report will be forwarded to a law enforcement agency for investigation.
  • To speak with a trained support specialist, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online.
  • Call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800.4.A.CHILD (422-4453).
  • Learn more about child sexual abuse and healing as an adult survivor of CSA.

Additional Resources

  • Lean On Me: A caregiver’s guide to safeguarding children and supporting healing from sexual abuse in Spanish.
  • Apóyate en mí. A caregiver’s guide to safeguarding children and supporting healing from sexual abuse in Spanish.

To speak with a trained support specialist, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online in English at online.rainn.org or in Spanish at RAINN.org/es.