MODERATE INCREASE IN ACTUAL INVESTIGATIONS AND CASES

Key findings

/ Half of the respondents report an increase in possession, receipt and
distribution cases, and in online child sexual abuse cases, such as
grooming and sexual extortion.

/ Just over a quarter of respondents report an increase in physical child
sexual abuse cases.

/ The US reports the highest increase in cases, Sweden reports the lowest.

/ Some police officers report changes in the nature of possession, receipt
and distribution cases, as well as grooming and sexual extortion cases.

This section looks at the actual cases and investigations that law enforcement professionals have worked with during the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether they have seen a change in volumes, types or nature of child sexual abuse (CSA) crimes.

Moderate increase

Half of the respondents report an increase in both possession, receipt and distribution cases, and in online CSA cases, such as grooming and sexual extortion. Four in ten also report an increase in cases that involve voluntarily self-produced CSA material. Of those who report an increase, the majority report a moderate increase for all those categories.

WHETHER THERE HAVE BEEN ANY CHANGES TO THE NUMBER OF ACTUAL CSA CASES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.

“I believe there are more children online self-producing.”

“The biggest increase is sextortion. I have several suicidal victims.
There is an increase of contact with subjects overseas, rather than all domestic subjects like before.”

Voluntarily self-produced

Voluntarily self-produced material includes all material that has been produced without a sexual intent by the child, or when an older child produces material with consent, which is then spread on the internet. A few of the surveyed police officers commented that they had seen an increase in young people sharing self-produced material of themselves in exchange for money during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The voluntarily self-produced CSAM cases we have seen involve selling self-produced images. Due to economic depression, kids are seeing this as a way to make money for things they could otherwise not afford.”

“Children spending more time on the internet. Younger people sharing images for money as other forms of income diminished.”

Physical CSA

The number for physical CSA cases is lower, just over a quarter of the police officers reported an increase. Several respondents commented that the lack of an increase in reports may be a result of school closures and children being separated from mandatory reporters, and that the actual number of children being physically abused could be much higher.

“With children being confined to their homes and not in school has caused an uptick in sexual abuse cases. The perpetrator is usually in the home or close to the victim. The safety net of school is missing, putting children in harm’s way. This also goes for reporting. Several abuse cases come through a school official, especially when the child feels that he/she is in a safe place.”

“Decrease in contact offending has been a result of pathways children have to report being removed/limited.”

“I believe the decrease is in reporting only and the cases are still occurring.”

“Children are not being monitored or protected during the school year.”

Unchanged

One in five respondents also reported that the number of investigations and CSA cases has remained unchanged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For my department, I have only seen an increase in cybertips which have uploads/downloads dates from the period when the lockdown started. There have been some sexting/corruption of minors cases between children and adults, however the number of these types of cases has not seemed to deviate from its normal amounts.”

More time online

When asked to elaborate on the reasons for the changes they had seen, similar to the previous insights, more than half of the respondents believed that the changes in investigations and cases were due to people spending more time at home as a result of lockdowns and social restrictions. Also similar to the previous insights, many respondents highlighted that offenders had possibilities to spend more time online, and that children also spent much more time online, often unsupervised.

“The reason for this change is due to restrictions. Being non-stop with or without a victim of CSAM has made offenders take action in their own way.”

“Likely due to more free time, and more people/children online during quarantines.”

“Everyone is home, everyone is online occupying their time, it allows for those with this propensity to have increased access.”

A number of respondents pointed to psychosocial effects, such as isolation and stress.

“Because people have no restrictions at home and fall victim to their own addictions.”

“Stressed offenders are acting out as lockdowns and quarantines take hold in everyday life.”

Difference between countries

Countries/regions reported differently on this issue. Whereas more than five and six in ten of the UK and US respondents reported an increase in possession, receipt and distribution cases, only two in ten of the Swedish respondents, and three in ten of the European respondents, reported the same.

THE SHARE OF RESPONDENTS IN EACH COUNTRY/SAMPLE THAT REPORTED AN INCREASE (CONSIDERABLE OR MODERATE) IN NUMBERS OF CASES.

THE SHARE OF RESPONDENTS IN EACH COUNTRY/SAMPLE THAT REPORTED UNCHANGED NUMBERS OF CASES.

Considerably fewer Swedish respondents reported an increase in voluntary self-production cases and physical CSA cases than the other countries. Again, many Swedish respondents answered that they
don’t know. There is less of a difference in online CSA crime.

Too early to know

As in the previous insights, several respondents commented that it is still too early to see the full effects on CSA crime from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I believe that we will see a change in a couple of months, the statistics are a little behind, if you know what I mean. The kids who are offended or exposed to these crimes may not tell right away.”

“It’s hard to determine the content at this point due the large amount of backlogged cases that are still being worked that all originated during this time span.”

Possession, receipt and distribution

The majority of respondents had not seen a change in the nature of the possession, receipt and distribution cases that they worked on during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one in five reported that they had seen a change.

WHETHER THERE HAVE BEEN CHANGES IN THE NATURE OF POSSESSION, RECEIPT AND DISTRIBUTION CASES.

The types of changes reported were primarily an increase in the volumes of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in their cases, but also more newly produced CSAM and changes in the types of CSAM. The changes in the types of CSAM mentioned, range from more self-produced material, younger children and more violent content, to more parents producing CSAM of their children. Other changes mentioned were more viral content being shared, and more children sharing CSAM with each other.

TYPES OF CHANGES SEEN IN POSSESSION, RECEIPT AND DISTRIBUTION CASES.

“Collections are getting larger, people have more ready access to time and space as they are working from home and not at the office.”

“The material captured is more diverse and globally sourced instead of the previous trends from South East Asia or Eastern European.”

“The self-produced material is becoming more serious and more advanced.”

“New content is increasing, especially self-produced or groomed content.”

“We are seeing more “viral videos” that are being distributed by offenders who are not actually interested in CSAM, but are spreading the videos still.”

“A significant increase in CSAM produced and distributed among children.”

Grooming and sexual extortion cases

A majority of respondents either reported that they had not seen any changes in the nature of the grooming and sexual extortion cases that they had worked on during the COVID-19 pandemic, or that they don’t know.

WHETHER THERE HAVE BEEN CHANGES IN GROOMING AND SEXUAL EXTORTION CASES.

However, one quarter reported that they had seen changes in their investigations. The majority of those reported a change in offender behaviour, followed by changes in types of platforms where children were contacted, and change to what children were convinced or coerced into doing.

TYPES OF CHANGES SEEN IN GROOMING AND SEXUAL EXTORTION CASES.

Several police officers commented that the lockdowns and social restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic affected how isolated children were, increasing their risk for victimisation.

“The volume of cases has simply increased. Children who are
victimized by sextortion have fewer resources for help due to isolation, meaning the extortion gets very bad before adults are aware of it and intervene.”

“I have seen more kids seeming to self-produce out of boredom or thinking it is a game. I have also seen a drastic lowering in ages
of self-producing victims, down to kindergarten.”

More platforms

Several of the police officers reported an increase in the number of platforms used to contact, groom and sexually extort children.

“They use more different social media to find and reach out to children.”

“More and more platforms emerging and cross between other platforms.”

More aggressive offenders

The surveyed police officers also commented that offender behaviour had become more aggressive during the period.

“Offenders seems to be much more aggressive to me; as I conduct proactive undercover chat cases the majority of the time.”

“With kids being stuck at home, I think that predators feel that they have a large victim pool. In the chat evidence that I have reviewed they seem to jump from victim to victim faster than before and put less effort into grooming and more effort into finding a susceptible victim.”

“The offenders dealt with during lockdown have, in my opinion, been far more brazen in their activities and requests to children and who they think are children.”

Comments to insight 4

More results from the NetClean Report 2020