“The Community” – An international dark web CSAM-website

Jaakko Salovaara 
Master of Social Sciences 
Social worker, Constable Intern 
jaakko.salovaara[@]edu.polamk.fi 

Lue Suomeksi täältä

The amount of CSEM/CSAM being shared online has been on the increase for several years and Europol considers this a strong trend in the foreseeable future as well. Europol has stated that law enforcement must take multi-professional coordinated action in terms of identifying and dismantling dark web-based sites that thrive on child sexual exploitation material. 

My thesis for The Police University College (Tampere, Finland) aims to take a closer look at an international dark web website, “The Community”, which focuses on distributing CSAM and upholds an entire ecosystem revolving around online child sexual abuse. By choosing a qualitative and descriptive case study approach, I am trying to make this secret hive of online predatory behaviour easier to comprehend and approach regardless of one’s previous knowledge on this subject. 

The Community turned out to be a point of contact for thousands of active users. The CSAM shared (pictures, videos) ranged from legal pictures of children all the way to the top of the COPINE-scale with extremely sadistic sexual violence including bestiality and hurtcore. There are different levels of moderators who make sure The Community focuses on CSAM itself and does not stray into unwanted topics such as politics or religion. The laws of supply and demand come to effect as members leave requests for certain kind of material and others aim to provide as requested.  

Accessibility and strongly deviant social norms play a huge role in maintaining The Community’s vitality. In stark contrast to many of its kind, The Community is completely free of charge and the members can view and download CSAM without uploading any material at all. One of the most concerning social norms present in many of The Community’s chat rooms is the way members mentally distance themselves from the consequences of the sexual abuse of children. Sexual abuse of children (and CSAM as a result) is considered as merely introducing children to sex or something that would happen anyway regardless of the demand created by CSAM-oriented websites.  This way of thinking is the exact opposite of Interpol’s phrasing “Real – Not virtual”. 

Although anonymity is a given for most members there are some who choose to gloat in the open instead of lurking in the dark. Providing vast personal information and/or pictures might have at least two different functions. Some may feel that The Community is beyond the reach of law enforcement. Others may feel the need to express their way of life and boost their online identity regardless of the obvious risks involved. The Community also provides several anonymous ways to build up your identity and showcase the things you are most interested in.   

One of the key outcomes of this thesis is that even though effective pre-trial investigation is essential in quality police work it can never surpass the importance of prevention in the fight against online sexual crimes against children. People who choose to view CSAM should be provided with an anonymous and easy to access means of getting help in changing their pattern of behaviour online. This might be particularly important to “early on offenders” who do not have a strong foothold in the world of online offending and are more likely to struggle with inner conflicts regarding the viewing and sharing of CSAM. As with substance abuse related offences, it should be mandatory that police provide offenders an access to evidence-based treatment in CSAM-cases as well.      

Jaakko Salovaara´s thesis (Police University College) ”Lapseen kohdistuvaa seksuaaliväkivaltaa kuvaava materiaali verkossa – kansainvälisen CSAM-sivuston toiminta ja käyttäjät” [Child Sexual Abuse Material Online – The ecosystem and users of an International CSAM-site] will be available via theseus.fi in spring 2021. 

For more current information on this topic please see this guest blog (Dr Salla Huikuri) and The Procsead-project