New study aims to reduce online sexual exploitation of children

On March 26th, the Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden are launching a new study aimed at reducing online sexual exploitation of children. Recruitment of study participants will take place in forums on the encrypted part of the internet called the darknet.

This study aims to evaluate a new way to help people stop consuming online child sexual abuse material, a behavior that is currently lacking any scientifically proven treatment. The treatment method being tested is a therapist-assisted online cognitive behavioral psychotherapy programme based on a new manual called Prevent it. Recruitment will take place in forums on the encrypted part of the internet called the darknet,where sharing of child sexual abuse material is common.

"On the darknet there are people who are stuck in a behavior that they want to stop, but they need to find a way to do so. What if the same internet, the same network of interconnected computers which makes it possible to spread destruction and abuse, could also be used to provide treatment, even in the most remote and hidden places?", says Dr Rahm, psychiatrist and Principal Investigator of the study.

To assess the efficacy of the treatment the participant will be randomized into either active psychotherapy or so called psychological placebo, i. e. a controlled similar condition but without active cognitive behavioral psychotherapy interventions. There is also a waiting list group for comparison. The studywill recruit globally and the participants will be anonymous.

"Sexual exploitation of children online is a large-scale global problem. By recruiting patients via the darknet we will reach many nationalities. An important goal with this study is also to try to democratize the access to highly specialized care at university clinics", says Dr Christoffer Rahm.

Rahm and his team at the Anova clinic,including Dr Katarina Görts öberg, Dr Stefan Arver, andCharlotte Sparre, will run the study for the next 18 months.

The study has been prepared in collaboration withWorld Childhood Foundation and ECPAT Sweden.

"When a case of sexual abuse is documented and spread online, it increases the trauma suffered by the child. In order to truly prevent sexual abuse of children, we must work with those who are at risk of committing the abuse. There is a great lack of knowledge within this area, which is why Childhood is actively investing in this project." says Paula Guillet de Monthoux, Secretary General at World Childhood Foundation.

"To prevent sexual exploitation of children, many different measures are needed. We work to empower children and young people but preventive work for potential offenders is also necessary. That is why we are a knowledge partner in this project", says Anna Karin Hildingson Boqvist, Secretary General at ECPAT Sweden.

The Swedish Central Ethics Review Board approved the study protocol on the 18th of March.

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