“We can only speculate as to what the real numbers are”
In the NetClean 2017 report, we asked how the hands-on child sexual abuse offenders come in contact with the children and the result showed that the offender is most likely a close family member or relative, but that the internet is also a common way to get in contact with the children.
However, even though we have an understanding of where abuse happens, we cannot say for sure how frequently it occurs, how much abuse is shared on the internet, and to what extent perpetrators travel to foreign destinations to find children to victimise.
We asked Björn Sellström from Interpol to comment. He highlights that we need more research to estimate how frequently this abuse occurs, and also points to the fact the nature of abuse has changed and that grooming online is a big part of the problem now.
By Björn Sellström, Teamleader, Crimes Against Children Unit, Vulnerable Communities Team, INTERPOL
We cannot say with certainty that we know where sexual abuse crimes are being committed, nor can we say to what extent child sexual abuse material is being distributed on the internet. We are in a dire need of a global scan to uncover much of this information. This makes it difficult to comment with certainty on the results in this report.
The home and close to home is the most common ground for abuse
Although we can only speculate, the data in this report seems to reflect what we know. Most sexual abuse of children occurs in the home or somewhere that is close or familiar to the child. This is based on the assumption that a person who has a sexual interest in children is likely to abuse those close to them.
The reason why we are nowhere close to understanding the extent of this problem is because of the psychological strain that it places on the child to report an adult close to them. It simply does not happen very often. However, based on the knowledge that we have law enforcement knows to investigate people close to the child.
The internet poses a big risk
I agree with the data in this report that shows that the internet poses a big risk for children, and that many fall prey to people who try to groom them. In my opinion, child sexual abuse has changed now that it is easy for a perpetrator to contact children on the internet. The abuse is no longer always about physical contact, instead we see online crime that includes threats and blackmail.
The investigations that deal with grooming are different to the more traditional cases of child sexual abuse. The number of victims involved is often much higher. This is because the perpetrator can reach a larger number of children on the internet than most can in their physical environment.
We are also seeing an increase in live-streaming. These crimes are difficult to detect, hard to prove, and as a result we have little knowledge of to what extent this is happening. Simply put, if the material is not saved to a device it is impossible to detect the crime. In cases like this we need to rely on a victim to testify to what happened to them.
Perpetrators that travel
I believe that the number of perpetrators who travel to abuse children is higher than the data shows in this study. Even if the comparable numbers are correct it would be wrong to dismiss this group as being small or insignificant. The reason why this issue has not been picked up more is probably due to the fact that it is not being addressed as much as other similar issues.