It shouldn’t be a numbers game
There is much talk about increasing sizes of caseloads and number of child sexual abuse images in circulation. The largest cases are known to contain up to a 100 million images, a number which we sought to contextualise by finding out how big an average or “normal” case is in the NetClean 2017 report. We found that case sizes vary greatly, with a “normal” case containing anything from 50,000 to 5 million images that investigators need to sift through. Often less than 50,000 images are found to depict child sexual abuse. These numbers were corroborated by numbers from one of Taskforce Argos’ operations, consisting of close to 100 seizures.
When asked to comment on the findings, the team interviewed at Taskforce Argos* responded that they want to see the public and media debate shift away from a focus on case sizes and numbers, to instead focus more on victim identification and offender behaviour.
By Taskforce Argos
We would like to see the public and media debate move from talking about bigger and bigger cases and the nature of the material getting worse and worse. It doesn’t help the cause; it just turns it into a numbers game and diverts attention away from what is really happening and from what is really important.
No drastic change in case sizes
In our experience, cases are not growing exponentially bigger. We seize bigger hard drives, but they are normally not full. The average case is probably around 200 000-300 000 images, where about 80 percent can be ignored. This has not changed over the last number of years.
Offenders’ collections of child sexual abuse material don’t seem to be getting bigger either. If anything, they might be getting smaller, and we see more of a trend towards offenders keeping smaller collections of the kind of material that interests them.
Increase in links being shared
The reason for this change is probably the speed of which the internet can be accessed and how easy it is to find child sexual abuse material there. Offenders don’t need to download and keep large collections when they can achieve immediate gratification by viewing what’s online. Instead we have seen an increase in people sharing and trading collections of links to child sexual abuse material.
Another reason that smaller collections of material are being stored locally is that the offenders are more careful. They are aware that people involved in child sexual abuse crime are getting arrested and that unencrypted drives and locally maintained collections is a significant risk.
We still see offenders that compulsively collect images and videos and store enormous volumes of material, but they are not the norm.
The myth of more violence
Another myth that must be challenged is that the material is getting ‘more violent’ and the children portrayed are ‘getting younger’. Not because some of the material is not already violent and that the children are not very young, but because it has been like this for the past ten years.
Instead of focusing on numbers, we should focus on how we identify, find and rescue the children depicted in the images. We should also focus on learning more about offender behaviour changes and the new methods and technology that they use.
*Interviewed at Taskforce Argos are Adèle Desirs, Jon Rouse, Paul Griffiths, Scott Ballantyne och Stuart Butler.