The problem is not increasing – we’re getting better
In our surveys, police officers say year on year that they are getting busier fighting online child sexual abuse crime. Established reasons for this are increased data on increasingly larger hard drives, and developments in technology. Additionally, in the NetClean 2017 report two new factors were mentioned – the wider use of the internet and increased number of reports from industry. The latter points to rapidly growing awareness about the crime and how to help prevent it.
We asked Steven Wilson, Head of European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at EUROPOL, to comment on the findings, explaining why he believes that getting busier is not necessarily a sign that the crime is increasing.
By Steven Wilson, Europol
I believe there are two key reasons for the increased workload that law enforcement officers working with child sexual abuse crimes are seeing.
Development in technology
The first underlying cause is technology. Bigger hard drives mean a surge in material coming in. We see it first-hand as a clearing house for NCMEC*, for 19 of our 28 member states, and we see far more data coming to us every year. We also see more self-generated material; children voluntarily putting inappropriate images online. Even in cases where images have been shared within a relationship, we see a number of them migrating to both the open and dark web, adding to the amount of material in circulation.
The second cause has to do with an increase in reports from the public. They have become more aware and understand the value of reporting this crime. In addition, the response from industry, businesses etc, has also improved significantly, with more and better reporting. What we are seeing is a problem that is not necessarily getting bigger, but societies and law enforcement that are more aware of this crime type and are prepared to tackle it as a priority.
A positive trend
I am really pleased to see that three quarters of the police officers surveyed, report that they feel better prepared now compared to last year. That is a strong validation that we are showing progress across Europe, and across the world.
I believe that a combination of factors contribute to this positive result. Police forces are increasingly approaching challenges on a more strategic level, there is greater awareness of how to tackle and prioritise this crime, better training for staff and also a greater awareness of the improved tools and resources that are available.
To give an example, training is one of the things that we focus on at Europol. Over the past several years we have offered a week-long training programme for enforcement professionals, as a result several hundred officers from all member states and other countries have been trained on the latest investigation tactics and have had the ability to develop an extensive network to share expertise. The outcome is a more congruent response to this crime, and we are seeing a better and more even response to what we term best practice, and victim identification.