The new currency of predatory paedophiles

Not quite every day, but almost, I thank my lucky stars I don’t have to look at csam or any other form of illegal content. The people who do so in the name of protecting children or others are among the unsung heroes of my world. However, sometimes I get sent stuff which, while not obviously illegal, nevertheless makes your stomach churn.

One such category goes by the acronym DDLG: Dominant Daddy Little Girl There are variants of DDLG such as CG/L: CareGiver/Little, but they share a common rubric as a subset of BDSM (Bondage Dominance Sadomasochism). Children are being drawn or enticed to it.

Pathetic sexist stereotypes

The pathetic, sexist stereotypes within DDLG I will leave on one side for now. One web site provides a pictogram to explain the basic idea. Someone is dominant – the Daddy figure – and someone is submissive,  typically the “little girl”, although it could be DDLB if a young boy is involved.

The images I have seen almost invariably involve a young woman who might be hovering around 18 years old but some look way younger so there is no “adult agency” here.

The female is dressed up as a child, or as a baby. Frequently there will be a “pacifier” (“dummy” to Brits) in her mouth, secured by a bondage gag. Or  the woman/child might be wearing a nappy (“diaper”).  Whatever is going on the woman/child is either receiving the seemingly affectionate attention of an older man or is inviting an older man to embrace her and act out “affectionate dominance” (did I just write that?).

Sexualising childhood

There is no question in my mind DDLG is an extreme form of sexualising childhood. It is likely to draw children towards producing sexual images of themselves. As tokens of “friendship”, presents or money are being offered in return for submission in all things, including sex. Who knows how many children might already be caught up in it, now too scared  or embarrased to come forward to find a way out. A perfect trap for predators.

There is a growing number of reports to hotlines which link the use of DDLG images directly with grooming activity by paedophiles. If you go to Google Trends you will see DDLG has been moving sharply upwards globally since late 2014 and in the UK likewise since 2016.

DDLG is the new currency of predatory paedophiles and more children are being ensnared. There is even a page containing a so-called “kink test” inviting you to take the “BDSM test” which we are told “ will be great for beginners who are looking to enrich their erotic lives and introduce new kinks to it”.

Children’s profiles on social media sites are being “decorated” with extracts from  this so-called “test”.  Memories of Cambridge Analytica, I wonder what is happening to the data that is being collected?

DDLG has a page on Facebook and there appears to be several groups devoted to the subject. I just did a search and found, for example, “DDLG Forever – welcome all Doms and Subs” and another which proclaims the group is for 18+  before proceeding to be very explicit about its sexual nature. I am not going to repeat its language here.

Facebook, let me remind you, is open to people who are 13 years old and we know children well below that age are on it. There is no age verification taking place. Instagram is a sister company. In the EU their (not verified) lower age limit is 16 but outside of the EU it remains 13 in most jurisdictions (why the difference?). Yesterday I did a search for DDLG  on Instagram and got 3.4 million hits. I found DDLG on YouTube and Twitter, both open to 13 year olds. This is just not good enough.

The internet is no longer an adults only playground

Let me repeat a point I have made many times. I have no interest in what consenting adults get up to with their bodies. It’s none of my business, but this type of content and access to groups that propagate it should be confined to adults. It should not be hosted or visible on public platforms that allow 13 year olds or indeed any children to be members. It should only be accessible behind an age verification gateway.

The images are not illegal so they stay up.

Because the images are not illegal hotlines receiving reports, the police and the courts are in no position to require them to be removed. But companies are not powerless and knowing the way these images are being used by predatory paedophiles  and thinking about the corrosive messages they project, why would any social media platform choose to do nothing? Tumblr didn’t. They cleared it all out. Bravo.

Defining what is harmful content that should not be on unrestricted public view certainly has the potential to throw up difficult or edge cases but I humbly submit DDLG is not one of them. The internet is an open space where 1  in 3 of all human users in the world is a child. We have to think of everything we do online against that backdrop.

Companies should either follow Tumblr’s lead and ban this stuff altogether or they should insist that it goes behind an age gateway.  If they cannot or will not do the latter they should do the former. And they should do it now.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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