New report on child sexual abuse crime
during the COVID-19 pandemic
Two in three police officers report that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected online child sexual abuse crime
Sweden, January 26 – A new report, released today, shows that the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global increase in online child sexual abuse crime. Two in three police officers report that the fallout from the pandemic, social restrictions, lockdowns and school closures, has affected online child sexual abuse crime. Only one in ten said that the pandemic has not had an effect on this serious crime. In addition, half of the surveyed police officers report that the pandemic has affected law enforcement capacity to investigate these types of crimes.
Nearly five hundred police officers from 39 countries, the majority from the US and Europe, participated in the survey that informed this report, produced by Swedish impact tech company NetClean. According to the surveyed police officers, the increase is a result of both adults and children spending more time at home and online, and children often spending more unsupervised time online. Children being isolated with their offenders and removed from mandatory reporters may also have caused an increase in offline child sexual abuse crime.
“The risks associated with lockdowns, school closures and increased time spent online, is something that law enforcement and bodies for child protection warned of early on during the pandemic, and now we can see that these warnings were correct”, said Anna Borgström, CEO of NetClean. “The report shows an increase in online activity, such as attempts to contact children, self-generated material, and in the downloading and sharing of child sexual abuse material.”
Half of the surveyed police officers also reported that the pandemic has affected their capacity to investigate child sexual abuse crimes, primarily due to an increase in workload, limited possibilities to conduct investigations when working remotely, limited possibilities to execute search warrants, difficulties in conducting interviews with victims, suspects and witnesses, and slower court processing times.
“These are still early indications. We won’t know the full impact of the pandemic on child sexual abuse crime for some years yet, but we need to take these first insights very seriously”, said Borgström. “We need to act to safeguard the children at risk right now. We need to learn from these insights so that we can protect children, when and if, in the future, we are forced to go into similar lockdowns and school closures.”
Short facts from the report
- 64 % of the surveyed police officers reported that the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has affected online child sexual abuse crime. 11 % reported no effect.
- 39 % reported that it has affected offline child sexual abuse crime. 10 % reported no effect.
- The surveyed police officers reported that lockdowns, social restrictions and school closures led to both adults and children spending more time online, therefore increasing the risk of online child sexual abuse crime.
- Confinement to the home meant that children may have been isolated with their abuser. During school closures, children did not have access to mandatory reporters, which according to the respondents affected (decreased) the number of reports of offline CSA crime.
- 48 % reported a change in online activity, primarily an increase in attempts to contact children, self-generated material, downloads on peer-to-peer networks, and activity on darknet forums. 18 % reported no change in online activity.
- 43 % reported an increase in cybertip reports from NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). 20 % reported unchanged number of reports.
- 50 % of the surveyed police officers reported an increase in possession, receipt and distribution cases (3 % reported a decrease), and 49 % reported an increase in online child sexual abuse cases, such as grooming and sexual extortion (2 % reported a decrease). Fewer, 28 % reported an increase in physical child sexual abuse cases (6 % reported a decrease).
- 51 % of the respondents reported that the fallout from the pandemic affected law enforcement capacity to investigate CSA crime. 43 % reported that the fallout had not affected law enforcement capacity.
- They reported that an increase in workload, limitations associated with working from home, suspended search warrants, difficulties in conducting interviews and limited court processes led to slower processing time or cases not being investigated at all.
- The report provides a first insight into how the pandemic has affected CSA crime; however it will be a number of years until we know the full impact of COVID-19 in relation to this crime. This is reflected in the relatively large share of respondents who answered “don’t know” throughout the report.
Section two of the report
The report also includes a second section that looks at why businesses and organisations choose to address child sexual abuse material in corporate environments. The interviews in this section showed that the companies’ core drive behind addressing this issue comes from wanting to act ethically. Other drivers ranged from sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) frameworks, policy compliance and risk assessments from a compliance perspective, to IT security risks, brand protection and Human Resources drivers; ensuring that employees share the company’s core values, and that they don’t engage in criminal behaviour.
About the NetClean report:
The NetClean Report is a yearly report about child sexual abuse crime, published since 2015. In the NetClean Report – COVID-19 Impact 2020, 470 police officers from 39 different countries, all who work on investigations pertaining to child sexual abuse crime, participated in the survey. A majority of respondents were from the US (44 %) and Europe (44 %). The survey was conducted 12 June – 17 October 2020.