Can a growing problem be a positive?
NetClean’s recent research showed that law enforcement across the world is dealing with an increasing volume of child sexual abuse. In fact, a staggering 74.6 percent of the officers surveyed said that their workload has increased in the last year.
This raises the question if police forces are experiencing an increasingly demanding work load because the volume of child sexual abuse material is actually increasing? Or is it because law enforcement and other stakeholders are getting better at finding the material?
We put the question to Verónica Donoso Executive Director at INHOPE, who explained that it is a complex issue with no clear answer.
Are we getting better at combating child sexual abuse material?
At first sight, if one looks at worldwide trends, it may seem that more content (child sexual abuse material) is being found. However, one must be very cautious when interpreting these numbers as an increase in the amount of child sexual abuse material found does not necessarily mean that the problem is increasing. It may also mean that we are getting better at detecting this type of illegal content, because of new technologies or because of more and better human resources available to deal with it. In specific countries it may be because the population is more aware of the problem and as a result are reporting it more. What I am trying to say is that because of the nature of the content being dealt with, and the impossibility to collect data directly from the source, it is extremely difficult to draw one single conclusion. As long as we are unclear how much child sexual abuse material is being produced, distributed and consumed out there, we will not be able to know for sure whether the problem has worsened or not.
Increased awareness is having a positive impact
I believe, however, that the increase in awareness amongst the public, the use of new technologies (such as the use of ICCAM by INHOPE member hotlines) the continuous training of expert analysts and a more coordinated approach among the different actors fighting child sexual abuse material is having a positive impact in our day-to-day work. In particular, I think that international collaboration as well as increased cooperation with the industry and law enforcement agencies is crucial to fight this battle. And this has certainly kept on improving through the years. Initiatives such as We Protect Global Alliance or the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working together to prevent and deter online child abuse, are key to bringing the right people and minds together to make a real difference.
Hotlines add to awareness and to increased detection
Hotlines, in their turn, play an important role in wider national and international strategies to address online child sexual abuse and exploitation. Hotlines are national focal points that allow the community to securely and anonymously report what they believe to be illicit material. Something they might otherwise feel uncomfortable or afraid to do directly to the police. Obviously, not all the content that is reported from the public is confirmed child sexual abuse material or illegal material. But this is exactly the added value of hotlines. By receiving and thoroughly analysing all these reports, including the non-illegal ones, hotlines save the police valuable time for victim and perpetrator identification and dismantling criminal networks. As a result, hotlines fill a gap that allows police to get access to information they would otherwise probably never have been able to find on their own.
We’re getting better, but the fight is far from over
In summary, even though I feel we are getting better at fighting this battle, there is still much more to be done. Many countries still lack proper legislation to address child sexual abuse material, while further efforts are needed to better investigate it, prosecute offenders, protect child victims and remove illegal online content even faster. In addition, less than a quarter of countries worldwide have a hotline today, a number that we believe must increase. It is also essential to keep working to raise awareness among the public. I believe that the key to tackling this problem is to continue increasing our efforts, to better coordinate existing initiatives and to ensure that successful ways of working are replicated and multiplied all over the world.