Three questions on Instagram and sexual exploitation

28 November 2019
Instagram is “predator’s paradise” according to three anti-sexual exploitation organizations. Defend Dignity in Canada, along with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (United States) and Collective Shout (Australia), launched a campaign this month to call out problems on Instagram. [Update: The campaign is bringing some positive results, according to a Dec. 19, 2019 post by NCOSE.]

As part of our Three Questions Series we asked Glendyne Gerrard of Defend Dignity (an EFC partner group) to introduce the campaign.

Q1. What is the #WakeUpInstagram campaign?

The #WakeUpInstagram campaign is an international campaign to call out rampant sex trafficking, child sexual abuse grooming, and adult fetishization of young girls on Instagram, the picture-based social media platform. 

Defend Dignity (Canada), the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (United States) and Collective Shout (Australia) have joined forces asking the company to provide adequate measures to keep children safe from sexual predators. We have made the following requests to Instagram:
  • Instagram must change its settings so that strangers cannot direct message minors.
  • Instagram must fix its algorithm to proactively remove sexualizing or sexually graphic  comments on minor’s photos.
  • Instagram must update its reporting system so that if someone is reporting a sexual comment on a minor’s post it can be reported as such. The “harassment/bullying” selection does not capture the fact that these comments come from adults who are grooming, sexualizing or harassing a child.
  • Instagram should investigate accounts that are solely dedicated to posting images of minors, particularly those that are said to be modeling pictures to ensure they are not promoting sexualized photos or attracting sexualized comments.

Q2. Why is Defend Dignity championing this campaign in Canada?

Instagram is accessible anywhere in the world, and it is a popular platform, especially among youth.  Canada is experiencing the same issues with Instagram’s complicity in luring kids and sexualizing minors as the United States, Australia and elsewhere. 

Social media platforms like Instagram have become the most common global way to lure and recruit young girls for purposes of sexually exploiting them. Pimps and traffickers love the easy access to vulnerable victims made possible through platforms such as Instagram. These nefarious individuals can remain anonymous by creating false accounts making them appear like young people themselves. 

Prior to the age of the internet and social media, pimps and traffickers recruited victims through face to face contact in Canada. While this still happens, social media luring accounts for over 50% of recruitment. The internet gives global access to predators. This means that the once-held belief that kids in smalltown Canada are safer from predators is no longer true. 

Fake modelling offers and other ways to make money come through Instagram in big cities or in small towns across Canada. These offers are often made to children using the platform. See one Manitoba parent’s story about online luring at
Sexual comments and graphics on children’s photos happens with Canadian users.  It needs to be disallowed.

Q3. What do parents need to know about Instagram?

Instagram is one of the most popular apps among children. Your child is probably using it.

Have regular conversations with your child about staying safe while on Instagram. Remind them not to converse with anyone they don’t know through the app. Give them parameters around what kind of pictures they can post and what kind of accounts they can check out.

Once something is posted online it is available for worldwide viewing and for saving by anyone, including people they don’t know. Kids don’t stop to think about the consequences of posting sexualized pictures. What takes seconds to post can have lifelong results.

Parents must be vigilant in monitoring their child’s use of all social media, including Instagram.  Defend Dignity strongly recommends parents know the password to their child’s Instagram account so they can monitor all aspects of the account regularly, including the direct messaging option where predators can contact their child privately.

Once your child has an account they have access to any other account including those who post highly sexualized pictures. The ability to search by using common #hashtags means your child can access millions of potentially inappropriate pictures. For example, #sexy has 75.9 million posts. Check your child’s search history by clicking on the search icon at the bottom of the tool bar and then click on “search” at the top of the of your screen so you see what your child has been recently viewing.
Report any troubling comments, messages or pictures to Instagram, as described on their help pages at