Reports of the online sexual exploitation of Canadian children and the cases of child pornography have shot up during the COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic since the abusers take complete advantage of the fact that children are spending more and more time online. The Canadian kids are spending more time online because of the pandemic as the schools remain shut and their parents are working from the home, devoting lesser time towards the kids — and that is what driving a hike in the reports of online child sexual exploitation.
The director of Cybertip.ca, Stephen Sauer, said that his organization saw an 81 per cent hike over April, May and June (in reports) from the youth who had been sexually exploited online, and of those reports of people trying to sexually abuse children in various ways. He says that it seems to be an online epidemic right now. Sgt. Arnold Guerin of the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre that coordinates investigations into the online child sexual exploitation and child pornography (CP) stated his unit too, has seen a sudden rise in reports of sexual exploitation of children.
At the spread of the pandemic, he said, his unit saw offenders on the various live-streaming websites, social media and also on the dark web hunting for children to chat with online, or to meet in person in the bid to sexually assault them.
Online Hub Stimulates Predators
Guerin said that in March, when everything of the pandemic started, they were not immediately seeing a rise in the child sexual exploitation reports being made from several big companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. Since then, they have seen increased reports from the referrals made to Canada from all of those companies and also from others.
Guerin added that when online companies come across child abuse or child pornography on their platforms, they refer the information to police in the country where the abuser lives.
“So every referral that we get — and we’re getting them in the thousands per month — are Canadians who are sharing child pornography actively on all of those social networks,” he said.
While Guerin’s unit has seen a steady rise in child online sexual exploitation online over time, he said that the latest increase appears to be the result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our feeling is that the increase is definitely related to COVID,” he said. “Because more people are at home. More people are online and children are spending an inordinate amount of time in front of screens, whether those are computers or mobile devices.”
18 men in Alberta, from across the province are facing a total of 65 charges related to online child exploitation. Alberta’s Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) Internet Child Exploitation unit has yet received 243 reports instances of online child exploitation in Alberta in March above the average of 110.
“This is a level of activity that has been unparalleled in the existence of the ICE unit,” Supt. Dwayne Lakusta said in a media statement.
Canada is not the only one to experience this. A report by Europol last month states that the EU’s central law enforcement agency has also found an increase in the huge sharing of child sexual abuse material online during the pandemic. The report said that this harmful sharing and re-sharing of content that victimizes children have been repeatedly detected at record levels during the coronavirus pandemic within Europe.
As per the U.S National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children there has been a 106 per cent hike in such activity across the globe.
A Spike In The Child Pornography
Europol has found out messages in one of the dark web forums for “cappers” (people who capture live stream videos of children being brutally forced or coerced into producing various types of videos of a sexual variety). The number of such messages and threads have tripled from 500 between December and February to 1,500 between March and May, which is just unbelievable.
The report also predicts the shooting up of activity during the coronavirus pandemic will fuel an increase in the sexual abuse of children and child pornography will be deliberately available online.
“We may expect to see a further increase of this material being spread and children being victimized in the coming months,” the authors wrote.
While such activity has increased during the pandemic, Guerin said his unit has not seen a change in the types of crimes it sees happening online, as the type of crimes keeps on being the same as usual.
He said, “We are seeing images and videos of very young children. We have seen images as young as infants and newborns being sexually assaulted all the way up to the age of 17. The majority of the content that we investigate and review is largely pre-pubescent, so before puberty, of very young children. They are often of sexual assault or in some cases violent in nature.”
Guerin further said that the abusers and those seeking to exploit children sexually can be found wherever children hang out online especially the social media websites.
“They’re hanging out on all of them,” he said. “So it’s Omegle. It’s Facebook. It’s Microsoft. It’s Google, Snapchat — any platform where you’re going to find children, you’re going to find this kind of material being reported.”
RCMP Sgt. Arnold Guerin Advises Parents
Cops and experts are seeing an increase in online child exploitation during the coronavirus pandemic. Sauer said that he is also seeing reports of abusers hanging out on websites such as Omegle and Chatroulette, which permit users to chat with strangers. He said that kids should make sure they know who they are really dealing with online.
“You would want to make sure that you’re cautious about engaging with individuals that you don’t know online,” he said. “That you are wary of individuals asking sexual questions, or for sexual pictures or images. Anything that appears to make you feel uncomfortable.
“Also, for youth, if a situation has gone too far, find a safe parent or a safe adult to talk to about the situation. Someone in your life that you know that will help you through the situation. That’s the way to go about it.”
“The really important thing is to be involved in your child’s life online as much as you would in the real world,” he said. “I would have honest conversations about them … to tell them that if anything happens to them online that makes them fear for their online safety, that it’s okay to seek out the help of a parent and that they won’t be in trouble for asking for help.”
Guerin strongly agrees to this.
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