United for Child Safety

Excessive use of adult pornography as a possible pathway to CSAM offending


New research conducted by 2PS project partner, Finnish child-rights NGO Protect Children, reveals that many child sexual abuse material (CSAM) offenders were excessively viewing pornography before starting to search for CSAM.

It is important to note that pathways to child sexual abuse material offending are complex and require further comprehensive research. It is crucial not to establish a causal relationship between healthy and regular use of adult pornography and viewing child sexual abuse material. Whilst research suggests that excessive and worrying use of pornography may lead to the use of more illicit and extreme material, and in some instances to the use of CSAM, this is only one of the possible determinants.


Knowledge to Prevent – 2KNOW Project

In the EU-funded Project 2KNOW, in strong collaboration with the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the University of Eastern Finland, Protect Children surveyed 2,899 individuals searching for child sexual abuse material on the dark web.

The ‘Help us to know’ survey includes 37 questions that collect basic demographic data and ask respondents about their motivation to view CSAM, use of pornography, sexual interests, adverse childhood experiences, criminal background, and self-rated risk of child sexual abuse. The survey is available in 15 languages. Participants in the survey are voluntarily recruited when they search for CSAM using indicative keywords on a dark web search engine.

Read the preliminary findings from the survey in the recently published research report: Knowledge to Prevent Online Sexual Violence Against Children: Insights from a Survey of Child Sexual Abuse Material Offenders.


Many respondents reported habitually consuming adult pornography before starting to view CSAM

The data analysis revealed that a considerable proportion (65%) of respondents reported habitually viewing adult pornography before starting to search for CSAM. Out of this population, 51% reported viewing pornography every day, 25% one or two days a week and 24% most days of the week.

Q6: Were you habitually viewing adult pornography before starting to search for child sexual abuse material? (N=1,792, respondents who selected ‘Prefer not to say’ removed) Q7: If you were habitually viewing pornography, how many days a week would you spend watching it? (N=1,009, respondents who selected ‘Prefer not to say’ removed)
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Another survey question asked respondents why they search for child sexual abuse material. 20% of respondents indicated that they grew desensitised to adult pornography, making it the third most reported motivation to view CSAM in the survey results. The finding highlights a possible escalation from habitually viewing adult pornography to searching for more extreme and violent material, including CSAM.

Quotes from ‘Help us to know’ survey respondents:  

“I believe it is a combination of a horrible upbringing, and the access to pornographic material as a child. As a child, I was sent pornographic material by friends online before I had even reached puberty, which made me act much more sexual than other children my age. In addition, I was shown child sexual abuse material by one of my online friends when I was a kid, and I believe it left a possibly permanent mark on me, as afterwards I would rather often seek out more by myself.”

‘The reason I watch these things is because I’m tired of the normal things on the normal browser.’

Other research conducted by Protect Children in the ReDirection project, funded by Safe Online, demonstrates similar results. In response to the ‘Help us to help you’ survey in the dark web, many individuals shared desensitisation to adult pornography, escalation to viewing CSAM, and a lack of control over their behaviour [1].

The result is relatively consistent among different language groups

A comparison between the four largest language groups represented among respondents to the survey demonstrates that 43% of English-speaking respondents, 38% of Russian-speaking respondents, and 37% of Spanish-speaking respondents reported to habitually consume adult pornography before starting to search for CSAM. Responses provided by Portuguese-speakers stood out, as a lower proportion (16%) of respondents from this language group said to habitually view adult pornography. Notably, Portuguese speakers were the most likely to choose the ‘prefer not to say’ option in response to this question.

More language-specific research results: Multilingual Perspectives on Child Sexual Abuse Material Offenders: Insights from English, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish-Speaking Offenders.

More research is urgently needed to explore the link between excessive use of pornography and viewing child sexual abuse material. Identifying pathways to CSAM offending informs the development of tailored and timely intervention strategies, preventing future crimes of sexual violence against children and helping survivors.

Project 2PS aims to address this demand by developing culture-sensitive policy recommendations on child sexual abuse prevention methods applicable throughout the European Union. It adopts a comprehensive and sociocultural-sensitive approach to prevention, facilitating knowledge exchange between valuable experts in the field.

The 2KNOW project has been produced with the financial support of the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV) Programme (2022) of the European Union. The contents herein are the sole responsibility of project partnership and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.