The European Union police agency said there had been an “increase” in the online distribution of child pornography during the coronavirus pandemic.
A Europol report states that during the COVID-19 lockdown, when children’s lives rapidly shifted from the real world to an online virtual world, “sex offenders have found in this development a tempting opportunity to access a larger group of potential victims “.
The report, titled “Exploiting Isolation: Sexual Predators Increasingly Targeting Children During COVID Pandemic” says a child is “re-victimized every time an image is shared” and explicit material represents a “significant” threat to the safety of children.
“The COVID-19 crisis has led to an increase in the online distribution of child pornography, which was already at high levels before the pandemic”
She added, “The harm resulting from being a victim of this crime is serious, and every time a photo or video is shared it leads to repeat victimization. The impact of this crime zone can hardly be overstated and an effective response is of the utmost importance. ”
According to Europol, the report highlights the increased sharing of online images of online child sexual exploitation and the “serious threat” this poses to children’s safety.
To cope with the threat, Europol says law enforcement authorities have stepped up their efforts to tackle “this serious crime”.
“With children and sex offenders confined to the home, law enforcement authorities have seen the amount of child sexual exploitation material shared online increasing around the world in recent months“, the report said.
Sex offenders have increased their criminal activity in social media, peer networks and the “dark web”.
Attempts to access websites featuring child pornography, hotline calls and dark net activity, and sharing of child pornography all increased during the period of detention.
In some countries, crimes of sexual abuse, such as online solicitation and so-called “sextortion”, have also been reported.
The report continues, “Webcam videos have dramatically increased in offender forums. This includes videos depicting children being forced or coerced, videos produced by children for their peers or for the attention of social media or others that have been captured without their knowledge. ”
“Video ‘contests’ held in web forums on child sexual exploitation may also have influenced the increase in images exchanged.”
“With children and sex offenders confined to the home, law enforcement authorities have seen the amount of child pornography shared online increase worldwide in recent months.”
“Monitoring of these forums shows that abusers quickly understood the heightened vulnerability of children being more online.”
On these forums, offenders not only exchange abusive material, but also share “best practices” on how to deceive and coerce more victims.
Although the exchange of child pornography is generally not motivated by financial gain, offenders pay for some forms of it, such as long-distance child abuse.
The content of child pornography can also be “disguised” behind advertisements generating profits for criminals with a “pay per click” formula.
The report continued, “The economic downturn linked to the pandemic could stimulate an increase in child pornography material produced in vulnerable communities for economic purposes.”
With more offenders online, the exchange of abusive material could continue to increase, the agency warns.
A spokesperson for Europol said it was monitoring the threat and “providing continued support to member states to identify offenders and victims”.