A Sea of Red Dots: The Explosion in Online Child Sexual Abuse, with Elizabeth and Ted Cross and Stefan Turkheimer

Season 6Episode 2February 12, 2024

In the face of a growing market for child sexual abuse materials, how do we keep kids safe—and how do we hold tech companies accountable?

While the presence of child sexual abuse images in child sexual abuse cases is not new, the sheer scale and scope and ubiquity of it all certainly is. The exponential growth in the trading of these images has now created a sophisticated marketplace designed entirely around exploiting children. We invited three guests to speak about this: Elizabeth and Ted Cross, eminent co-researchers of child sexual abuse materials online, or CSAM, and Stefan Turkheimer, the vice president of public policy at RAINN.

What Liz and Ted set out to learn was the degree to which incest played into the production of this material, what types of sex acts those trading in CSAM were most interested in, and what ages were most common among the child victims depicted. It’s all terribly, terribly disturbing but also important for us to fully understand in order to properly combat it. How they went about this work was ingenious, as you’re going to hear. But what is most important is what we learned to help inform our own investigations of child sexual abuse in order to protect these kids and better serve child victims of it.

And we also speak with Stefan about the very important policy implications of this terrible CSAM scourge. What can policy makers do to hold tech companies more responsible for preventing the proliferation of these materials in the first place? And how do we leverage the resources needed to better serve victims? Please take a listen.

Topics in this episode:

  • The scope of the problem (2:06)
  • A sea of red dots (4:16)
  • Not enough resources (5:43)
  • Where this is produced (9:57)
  • Research design (12:35)
  • Research findings (20:41)
  • Severity of abuse (24:03)
  • The link with incest (28:45)
  • Public policy (30:25)
  • Implications for practice (38:29)
  • For more information (41:25)


Elizabeth Cross, Ph.D., owner and CEO, Cross Associates Research & Evaluation Services, LLC, and adjunct professor of social work and child advocacy at Montclair State University

Theodore Cross, Ph.D., senior research specialists – research professor, Children and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Stefan Turkheimer, vice president for public policy, RAINN

NCMEC CyberTipline

Child Rescue Coalition

Map and severity of abuse list from the Sentencing Advisory Panel in the UK are both from a presentation by Elizabeth Cross, Theodore Cross, Camille Cooper, Stefan Turkheimer, and Simon Bailey to the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Congress (Edinburgh, September 2023)

“Illinois State Chapter” refers to Children’s Advocacy Centers of Illinois

Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program (ICAC)

Camille Cooper

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act


Project Safe Childhood Act

Child Rescue Act

For more information about National Children’s Alliance and the work of Children’s Advocacy Centers, visit our website at NationalChildrensAlliance.org. And join us on Facebook at One in Ten podcast.

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