The ease of A.I. technology means that perpetrators can create scores of images of children being sexually exploited or abused with the click of a button.
Simply entering a prompt spits out realistic images, videos and text in minutes, yielding new images of actual children as well as explicit ones of children who do not actually exist. These may include A.I.-generated material of babies and toddlers being raped; famous young children being sexually abused, according to a recent study from Britain; and routine class photos, adapted so all of the children are naked.
“The horror now before us is that someone can take an image of a child from social media, from a high school page or from a sporting event, and they can engage in what some have called ‘nudification,’” said Dr. Michael Bourke, the former chief psychologist for the U.S. Marshals Service who has worked on sex offenses involving children for decades. Using A.I. to alter photos this way is becoming more common, he said.
The images are indistinguishable from real ones, experts say, making it tougher to identify an actual victim from a fake one. “The investigations are way more challenging,” said Lt. Robin Richards, the commander of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force. “It takes time to investigate, and then once we are knee-deep in the investigation, it’s A.I., and then what do we do with this going forward?”
Law enforcement agencies, understaffed and underfunded, have already struggled to keep pace as rapid advances in technology have allowed child sexual abuse imagery to flourish at a startling rate. Images and videos, enabled by smartphone cameras, the dark web, social media and messaging applications, ricochet across the internet.