Lolli: The Toronto Pop-up Fighting for Children’s Safety
Toronto’s newest “Instagrammable” exhibit comes with a powerful message you might not want to talk about, but you should.
This summer, Toronto has seen a swarm of Instagrammable exhibits, rooms, and museums come and go. From bubble rooms to fake private jets, these pop-ups have all been about one thing: an image. But the Canadian Centre for Child Protection’s pop-up exhibit last week at Stackt Market was about so much more than just an image. It was about the 10,824 new images of child sexual abuse the Canadian Centre detects every 12 hours in Canada through their program, Project Arachnid.
Lolli, The Exhibit Nobody Wants to Talk About, is a jarring visual display of child sexual abuse images that circle the web. The Canadian Centre has been running cybertip.ca, Canada’s national hotline for reporting online sexual exploitation of children, for over 16 years. A couple years ago, they decided they wanted to be doing more to reduce the availability of this type of material online, says Executive Director Lianna McDonald, and Project Arachnid was born.
Project Arachnid is “a game-changing technology tool” as McDonald describes it, that crawls the URLs previously reported to the tip line and ones reported directly to the Arachnid API. Before Arachnid, there was no way to see how big the issue actually was. This technology changed everything. “The numbers were quite staggering,” McDonald says. In fact, the tip line has gone from responding to 4,000 public reports of imagery per month to more than 160,000 with the help of Arachnid.
The name of the exhibit, Lolli, is a term child sexual abusers use to refer to their victims. The room is full of 10,824 lollipops, representing the unthinkable amount of images detected by Arachnid every 12 hours. In the Canadian Centre’s continued effort to keep children safe, the exhibit is only open to visitors 18 and older.
Looking around the small, mirror-covered room, the number is incomprehensible and completely unacceptable. Between the lollipops are some small signs with powerful statistics and even some quotes dug up from the dark web.
The facts are harsh: 87% of lollipops are under 11 years old. And the quotes are disgusting: “my lolli grew up, need another.” As you read the walls and take in the meaning behind them, a recording plays in the background of survivors speaking out about their experiences.
In the middle of the room, a prompt on the floor encourages visitors the take a photo and share using #LollipopTakedown. The Canadian Centre is harnessing the power of the internet, which has harmed so many young children, and repurposing it in a positive way that mobilizes visitors.
“This is one of the current ways you’re allowed to start a provocative conversation,” McDonald says about the pop-up style exhibit. Child sexual abuse imagery is an issue that can’t be shown, so the Canadian Centre had to get creative in order to give people the visual they need to understand the issue and have a reaction.
McDonald says the Canadian Centre is moving forward an advocacy agenda. Part of this has been conducting a survivor survey and creating Phoenix 11, “a group of very courageous women who are lending their voice to talk about the serious impacts of this [issue], because for victims of child sexual abuse material, their past is their present,” McDonald explains. Even after the image is taken, people continue to trade and view those images online prolonging the victimization indefinitely.
The Canadian Centre is also taking action in other ways. They’re calling out companies who are ignoring the issue and not being proactive, working with the government to arm and inform officials, and pulling Canadians out of their denial by educating the public.
“Technology should not be used and misused to victimize children,” McDonald says, “children are our collective responsibility.
McDonald says after leaving the exhibit there’s plenty we can do to continue the conversation. You can leave a message for a survivor, make a small donation, connect to a survivor community and, of course, share #LollipopTakedown.
“If children can endure it, we can talk about it,” she says. “It might make people feel uncomfortable, but imagine if you’re uncomfortable just observing something like this what it would be like to experience this.”