IN CYBERTIPS AND
/ Almost half of the respondents report an increase in referrals from NCMEC.
/ A quarter of respondents report unchanged numbers of reports.
/ The US reports higher numbers of NCMEC referrals than the UK,
Sweden and Europe.
/ Isolation and more time online are believed to have affected reporting.
This section looks specifically at the number of reports and cybertips sent to law enforcement from NCMEC and hotlines, and reports about child sexual abuse material (CSAM) sent directly from the public.
The overall results show that about 30–40 percent of the respondents have seen an increase in different types of cybertips and reports from NCMEC, hotlines and the public. Most have seen a moderate increase in reports, with slightly higher numbers for NCMEC reports.
CHANGES TO THE NUMBER OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE REPORTS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.
“We have had a 12 % increase in Cybertips from NCMEC when data compared from March-August 2019 to March-August 2020.”
Between one fifth and one quarter of the respondents reported that the number of reports have remained unchanged during the pandemic. Very few police officers answered that they had seen a decrease in reports.
“There is a regular increase in number of reports from one year to the next year, with a constant movement. We did not notice any specific evolution due to the COVID situation.”
Too early to know
Relevant to note is that, similar to the other questions in the report, about 30–40 percent of the respondents answered that they don’t know. In the comments to the question, one in ten respondents also either said that it was too early to draw any conclusions, or that there was a delay in reporting to law enforcement.
“Any changes haven’t filtered through to us yet. We’re anticipating a rise in offences but are still waiting for the referrals.”
“The real effects will take time to filter through to us.”
More than four in ten respondents reported an increase in NCMEC reports, which is higher than for other types of reports. One quarter of the respondents reported a considerable increase and one fifth had seen a moderate increase.
This was also reflected in Insight 1, where one in ten police officers specifically mentioned an increase in NCMEC reports as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The cybertips I have received from NCMEC has increased four times my average.”
“Just an increase in NCMEC referrals.”
Higher numbers in the US
A breakdown of numbers into countries/ regions shows a difference in reporting. More than half of the US respondents answered that they had seen an increase in NCMEC reports, whereas only one quarter of the European and Swedish respondents agreed. Many US respondents reported a considerable increase, whereas the large majority of European and Swedish respondents reported a moderate increase.
SHARE OF RESPONDENTS IN EACH COUNTRY/SAMPLE THAT REPORTED AN INCREASE OR CHANGE IN NUMBERS OF REPORTING.
Spike in beginning of pandemic
A number of respondents reported a sharp spike in NCMEC reports at the beginning of the pandemic. This spike was reported to be largely due to a number of files going viral, without criminal intent. They were posted by outraged individuals, who, in one instance, wanted to identify a child (not understanding the negative impact such distribution may have on the victim), or as part of a public movement to actively search for and report CSAM to bring attention to the issue. More about this can be found in the expert comment on page 28 from John Shehan at NCMEC.
“Our cybertip reports for the month of March were up 122 % compared to March 2019 and 156 % compared to March 2018.”
“While there has been an increase in the overall number of online CSE reports, this is in part due to similar reports of memes and comics/media – shared over one or multiple platforms.”
“Increase in NCMEC reports are based on 1 month and a massive viral spread of a single file. I do not consider this to be a result of COVID.”
Effects of remote work
A number of respondents also commented that the NCMEC reports were affected by the lockdowns and NCMEC staff working remotely. In a comment to this Insight, John Shehan from NCMEC talks about the problems they have seen rise from the pandemic, and how they have developed new processes to deal with the challenges presented by remote work.
“NCMEC personnel worked from home for a time; were unable to triage and cancel non-CSAM; more tips sent to investigators for review.”
“NCMEC is only operating with a minimal staff so we have been unable to register new Child Exploitation Material with NCMEC or compare recovered Child Exploitation Material to NCMEC’s database of identified victims.”
“NCMEC staff on lockdown has had a direct effect in volume and quality of reports.”
The US respondents also reported higher numbers of reports from hotlines and directly from individuals to law enforcement, than Sweden, UK and Europe. European respondents reported more of an increase than the respondents in Sweden and the UK. However, important to note is that many respondents answered that they don’t know. Among the Swedish respondents more than seventy percent answered “don’t know”.
“I expect that the hotlines are all confined and not working. I’d have expected more reports from the public but we generally rely on the hotline reports to interact with the public.”
Isolation and more time online
When respondents were asked to elaborate on their answers, half of the respondents who commented said that more time spent at home, due to lockdowns and social restrictions, had led to an increase in reports of child sexual abuse (CSA) and CSAM.
Similar to Insight 1 and 2 in this report, many respondents mentioned that more time online for both offenders and children, and children often spending more unsupervised time online, has affected especially online CSA crime. Several mentioned that lack of social interaction and boredom may have created and accelerated destructive behaviour.
“The number of people using the internet has increased and people that are normally busy with life are making bad decisions due to inactivity.”
“Lockdown leads to boredom and symptoms of social disconnect. Socially disconnected people seem more likely to be able to accept the abuse within the images, this makes receiving sexual gratification less taboo from their perspective.”
“With people being home and nothing to do, I believe people are starting to ‘explore’ areas that they may not have in the past.”
A few respondents highlighted that increased reporting may be a result of more people accidentally coming across CSAM when they spend more time online.
“People pass more time online therefore find and report more child abuse material, that they find when looking for other subjects.”
A few of the respondents instead thought that the increased reporting may be a result of children being more supervised than usual, as both adults and children had been spending more time at home.
“More concerned adults are home to report or check on their previously unsupervised kids.”
“The parents are also staying more at home so the children have someone to tell. The parents have also better control of what’s going on and maybe they check their children’s units more often.”
NCMEC AND NCMEC REPORTS
NCMEC, The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, is a private, non-profit corporation in the US. Its mission is to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimisation.
NCMEC operates the CyberTipline, a national mechanism that the public, and electronic service providers use to report instances of suspected child sexual exploitation. These reports are made available to appropriate law enforcement agencies, both nationally and internationally, for review and potential investigation.