Key findings

/ Risk of delayed reporting.

/ Risk of increase in hands-on child sexual abuse.

/ Risk of law enforcement and courts being affected by backlogs and lack of resources.

In this final Insight, the respondents were asked if they believe that the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will have further far-reaching consequences for child sexual abuse (CSA) investigations. More than half of the respondents answered that they believe that it will.


The respondents who commented on the question outlined three major trends that they believe will affect future CSA investigations, all of which have also been outlined in the previous Insights in this report: An increase in cases due to delays in reporting, an increase in reported offline CSA as a result of underreporting during the pandemic, and backlogs and decreases in law enforcement resources that could affect law enforcement capacity to investigate CSA crimes.

Delayed reporting

The surveyed police officers commented that cases of CSA usually take a long time to reach law enforcement. As a consequence of the pandemic it is likely that it will take even longer. Therefore they anticipate a sharp rise in cases when society starts to return to normality and cases start to surface.

“Many cases of grooming that are occurring at this time will be reported later, subsequent to COVID-19 and this pandemic.”

“The number of cases (victim and perpetrators) will increase, because the information about it will come later.”

“I believe there will be a sharp increase of cases across this crime type which will begin to emerge as “normality” returns. Police units were struggling to cope with demand before – I have no idea how we will manage effectively as cases increase. I am concerned that there will be numerous children who have been self-producing without fully understanding consequences of this and there will be issues as time goes on and more images become available online.”

“I think that we still haven’t seen the full consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that in the nearest future we will get more cases related to CSAM.”

Increase in hands-on CSA

Closely related to delayed reporting, the police officers also answered that there is a risk of underreported physical hands-on CSA crime. As a result of children being unable to contact mandatory reporters during periods of lockdowns and school closures, there is a risk of crimes going unreported. The police officers also reported that there is a higher risk of more physical CSA, or the abuse going on for longer periods of time, as children are isolated with their offenders during periods of restrictions.

“Hands-on abuse will go on for longer periods of time due to lack
of reporting.“

“More children will have become victims because they are either at home with a predator 24/7 or the parent has had to place the child into a home with a predator that they wouldn’t normally choose, but childcare options are non-existent.”

“When children return to normal activities, we may find that abuse was occurring while the children were unable to contact mandated reporters.”

“I expect that post COVID we will experience an increase in reporting of contact offences as children are able to disclose.”

“The full impact is still unknown but with abusive parents and children all being on lockdown there’s bound to be more hands-on abuse happening because, friends, schools and other family have been unable to monitor if any abuse has been happening.”

Backlogs and lack of resources

Many respondents reported a risk of backlogs affecting CSA investigations for a long time.

“Case load will increase after the restrictions are lifted. Case backlog will be considerable and it will take time to process it. Limited resources will be under heavy strain from the workload.”

“Massive backlog incoming for everyone, cases will be rushed
and things will be missed putting children at higher risk.”

“If cases are being delayed and investigated – justice for victims
will be delayed.”

Combined with this, a number of respondents believed that resources may be cut as a result of a weaker post pandemic economy. This could,
in turn, lead to fewer arrests.

“COVID is destroying the economy thereby affecting funding which means ICAC teams are going to be underfunded in both personnel and equipment. When operations start back up, there will be an extraordinary amount of cases backlogged and not enough people to do it. Crimes and criminals are going to slip through the cracks.”

“The backlogs have increased, however, continued underfunding of digital forensics will mean that it will be difficult if not impossible to “claw back” the ground lost with regards to the length of time between exhibit submission and examination.”

“It will exacerbate an already stretched-thin police discipline. Most investigators I know are already overwhelmed and trying to stay ahead of cybertips, let alone any other referrals. I see this pandemic making matters worse and creating an even-worse backlog than before.”

Comment to insight 6

More results from the NetClean Report 2020