RESTRICTIONS HAVE
AFFECTED CHILD
SEXUAL ABUSE CRIME

Key findings

/ Clear effect on online child sexual abuse crime, some effect on offline child sexual abuse crime.

/ Lockdowns and social restrictions have led to adults and children spending more time online, increasing the risk of online child sexual abuse crime.

/ Confinement to the home and no access to mandatory reporters have affected the number of reports of offline child sexual abuse crime.

/ Reports of the effect on child sexual abuse crime vary between different countries.

Effects on CSA crime

A clear majority, nearly two thirds, of respondents reported that the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, with its social restrictions and lockdowns, has affected online child sexual abuse (CSA) crime.

Many respondents, four in ten, also reported an effect on offline CSA crime. However, for offline CSA crime half of the respondents answered that they don’t know, which makes this result less clear.

WHETHER THE FALLOUT FROM THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, SOCIAL RESTRICTIONS AND LOCKDOWNS, HAS HAD AN EFFECT ON ONLINE CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE CRIME.

WHETHER THE FALLOUT FROM THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, SOCIAL RESTRICTIONS AND LOCKDOWNS, HAS HAD AN EFFECT ON OFFLINE CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE CRIME.

Indication of effects

The results in this report are an indication, and a first insight into how the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has affected CSA crime.

We don’t yet know the full impact of the pandemic on CSA crime, and this is shown by the high number of respondents (often between a quarter or half of the respondents) who answered “Don’t know” or “Unable to respond” throughout the report. There are several factors that could explain this; one being that we, at the point of writing, are still in the middle of the pandemic. Another is that reports of sexual crimes against children take time to reach law enforcement. Just months after the start of the pandemic, it might be too early to see the definite effects of it.

However, whereas this might make it more difficult to draw definite conclusions from the results, the equally large share of respondents who reported seeing an impact gives a clear indication that the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has affected CSA crime and investigations.

Difference between countries

Countries/regions showed a difference in the number of police officers who reported an effect on CSA crime as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK respondents and the European sample answered almost identically to the whole sample. Europe was slightly lower for online CSA crime; 55 percent reported a change.

A breakout of the US and Swedish samples shows that the US respondents had seen more changes than the other groups, for both online and offline CSA crime, whereas the same numbers for Swedish respondents were down. Important to note is that the number of respondents who answered that they had not seen a change is similar across all samples.

The Swedish respondents answered “don’t know” to a higher degree than those from the other samples.

Increase in online CSA

When asked to specify what types of changes they had seen, the overwhelming majority of respondents, more than nine in ten, reported an increase in CSA crime. Of those, as many as seven in ten reported an increase in online CSA crime, including answers that specified online grooming, sexual extortion, self-produced material and livestreaming.

CHANGES THAT SURVEYED POLICE OFFICERS REPORTED SEEING AS A RESULT OF COVID-19.

“Online: More children have been groomed online, more self-generated CSAM has been produced.”

“The number of cases that our team has received this year has effectively doubled compared to the previous year. I believe that increased time at home has also increased the amount of time that offenders and potential child victims spend online; therefore, increasing the number of online child sexual abuse crimes.”

“Increase in reported child exploitation material possession and distribution. Increase in reported contact child abuse.”

Less clear about offline CSA

One in ten police officers reported an increase in offline CSA crime. Another one in ten said that they expect an increase in offline crime that has not yet come through in police reports. A reported decrease in the number of reports of offline CSA crime during the pandemic seems to echo this assumption.

“Online child sexual abuse crime has risen whilst offline can be assumed to have increased also, but reporting of offline abuse has seen a small decrease.”

“Offenders have more access to children. Less reporting as children are kept out of social situations like schools where child sexual abuse is often identified and reported.”

“Child sexual abuse crimes appear to have increased, both online and offline. Everyone is stuck at home, spending more time online, leading to more online CSA crime. Children are also stuck at home, some of whom are in vulnerable situations, leading to more offline CSA crime.”

Increase in NCMEC reports

More than one in ten police officers specified an increase in NCMEC referrals. Nearly all of those respondents were from the US. NCMEC reports are further examined in Insight 3.

“Significant increase in CyberTipline Reports received from NCMEC. A lot of the reports have been self-exploitation.”

“The NCMEC referrals went up significantly.”

More time online

More than half of the respondents specified different aspects of lockdowns and social restrictions that have affected CSA crime. Many specifically mentioned the effect that school closures have had. More than one third highlighted more time spent at home. Many specified both more adults and children spending more time online, and that children have often spent more unsupervised time online.

“Adults and children are spending more time online, therefore increasing the risks of online exploitation and abuse.”

“We are seeing an increase in reports of online child sexual abuse crime. Due to quarantine and school moving online, children have more time to utilise their devices in an unsupervised atmosphere.”

“The combined effect of increased online activity of child sex offenders with increased online activity by children = perfect storm.”

Isolated with abuser

In addition to children spending more time online, nearly one in five police officers said that lockdowns and school closures have had an effect on offline CSA crime, as children in destructive environments have been in isolation with their offenders. Simultaneously, the access to safe adults and mandatory reporters at schools has been cut off, leaving children even more exposed.

“As for offline, many had to isolate, and so often children had to be isolated with their abusers.”

“Children no longer have a safe haven of leaving an abusive environment if that is what their home situation is, and children are spending much more time online and most times unsupervised which increases the amount of online crimes.”

“Offline: children staying at home, being more exposed to sexual abuse in the circle of trust. Less detection of the cases by frontline professionals (teachers, social workers, etc.).”

“Hands on offences are being under-reported due to lack of interaction with mandated reporters.”

Decrease in CSA crime

Previously, a decrease in reports of offline CSA crime was mentioned. Whereas those respondents had seen a decrease in reports, a limited number of respondents also mentioned the possibility of an actual decrease in offline CSA crime.

“Online increased, while offline decreased.”

“Offline because predators do not have as much access as they would when everything is open.”

“Physical contact will have fallen due to government restrictions.”

Other respondents highlighted that offenders in the close family setting have had more access to their victims during the pandemic, whereas physical offenders outside of that setting would likely have had less access to their victims.

“Statistics show that both are up. It makes sense that more people are online during this time and familial offenders have more access to their victims. It would also make sense that non-familial offenders would likely have less access to victims.”

“Concerning online CSA crime more offenders have been active online because they had more time. Concerning offline CSA crime it is too early to tell. In some cases there has been a decrease because the offender no longer had access to the victim. But in some case the offender was in lockdown with the victim so the abuse could have increased.”

Too early to know

A number of respondents said that it is still too early to know the effects of the pandemic.

“We all assume that there must be correlations with increased domestic abuse and more vulnerabilities to online grooming due to increased unmonitored screen time, but there is little solid data as yet to confirm this. Most information is anecdotal. Some observe increased reporting, others decreased reporting, etc. there is little exploitation currently in tourism, due to travel restrictions which also suggests increased offender activity online, which has been carefully confirmed by law enforcement, yet little data has been provided to confirm a bigger trend in this regard.”

Comment to insight 1

More results from the NetClean Report 2020