Prevent It – meeting and treating users of Child Sexual Abuse Material online

By Elin Söderquist, Allison Park, Charlotte Sparre, Katarina Görts Öberg, & Christoffer Rahm.

“There is definitely a way to stop viewing CSAM, and I wish this study will lead to a wider effort to help those stuck in the same pattern as I was a few months ago”

-Prevent It participant

The need for new preventative initiatives working to prevent child exploitation online are acute. With the rapidly increasing numbers of shared material, especially during Covid lockdowns, we need to take action in every way possible. What if some of the users of Child Sex Abuse Material (CSAM) actually want to stop viewing pictures/films of prepubertal children, and just need some qualified help to do so? This is what experiences from Stop it Now and other help lines suggest, and this is where the idea of Prevent It comes in.

Prevent It is an anonymous international online therapy for people who want to stop using CSAM and want personal professional support. It is being tested with the best available scientific method, a blinded randomized clinical trial, designed to evaluate its effects, the change in consumption of CSAM.

Online recruitment began in April 2019, first only on onion sites dedicated to the spread of CSAM, sometimes called the “darknet”, and later, in the beginning of the summer 2020 recruitment expanded to also include discussion-forums on the open parts of the internet, sometimes called the “clearnet”. Prevent It is unique in that we are able to reach out to all corners of the world.

Due to understandable reasons, individuals with ongoing CSAM use are very concerned with their privacy. Therefore, the Prevent It treatment platform is accessible both through traditional web browsers and TOR, specifically designed to protect the integrity and safety of the user and used to access onion sites. We never ask for identifiable information or personal contact details. Recently we also made the treatment program no longer require an e-mail address when signing up nor require the enabling of JavaScripts.

The anonymity gives individuals an opportunity to seek care and be more open and truthful than they might be with an in-person therapist. In this way, we also reach out to individuals that law enforcement often does not.

The treatment contains weekly module content, assignments between modules, as well as weekly individual therapist feedback over eight weeks. Repeatedly, the participants are also asked if they know about any at-risk children, and it is clearly stated that any such information is immediately reported to the Swedish Social Services.

Many participants that apply to Prevent It describe that they suffer from psychological ailments such as anxiety, depression, and sometimes even suicidal thoughts. They also explain what a release it is to speak openly about their sexuality to someone – sometimes for the first time in their lives outside of the CSAM- chat forums. This study is already giving us new unique knowledge about this group that the research community knows so little about. Or as one participant said:

“Going through this treatment helped me understand my own sexuality more and helped my anxiety in that I felt that I could just talk about what I felt and thought to SOMEONE at all who wouldn’t judge me in a way I fear others close to me would.”
-Prevent it, participant

For more details please visit the following links:

Prevent It homepage: Study pre-registration ISRCT

Prevent it registration link:

Swedish Ethics Appeal (Reference No.: Dnr Ö 1-2019)

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