COVID-19 lockdowns drive spike in online child abuse
From slums in the Philippines to Australia’s suburbs, the cross-border crime has mushroomed as offenders take advantage of school closures and lockdowns to reach children – either in person or via social media, gaming sites and the dark web.
Pixabay/File

COVID-19 lockdowns drive spike in online child abuse

(Agence France-Presse) - December 6, 2020 - 12:00am

Out-of-school kids and adult predators spending more time at home and on the internet during the coronavirus pandemic is the “perfect storm” driving a spike in online child sex abuse around the world, activists and police say.

From slums in the Philippines to Australia’s suburbs, the cross-border crime has mushroomed as offenders take advantage of school closures and lockdowns to reach children – either in person or via social media, gaming sites and the dark web.

In Australia, federal police received more than 21,000 reports of child sex abuse in the 12 months to June 30, an increase of over 7,000 cases on the previous year.

Their investigators also recorded a 136 percent increase in online child sex exploitation material.

“Some of those dark web sites are actually crashing because they’re not coping with the amount of traffic,” Australian Federal Police detective superintendent Paula Hudson said.

She said police “directly attribute” the “incredible influx” to offenders and children spending more time at home because of lockdowns and school closures, with youngsters often left unsupervised as parents juggle work and care responsibilities.

“COVID-19 lockdowns created the perfect storm for increases in online sexual exploitation of children,” explained John Tanagho of the International Justice Mission in Manila.

The Philippine government saw a 260 percent increase in reports of online child abuse materials from March to May – when the country was in a strict lockdown, UNICEF said.

Investigators are even “seeing COVID-specific child exploitation forums where (offenders) are discussing the opportunities that have arisen during the COVID period,” Hudson revealed, including one with 1,000 members.

Live-streaming sexual abuse

Online sexual exploitation of children is a “crime of opportunity” driven by demand from sex offenders, said Tanagho.

The abuse is often repeated regularly to create new material.

With jobs and income lost and more time spent at home as a result of strict virus measures, in the Philippines many of the victims are first abused by their own parents, who livestream the sexual violence for predators in wealthy Western nations.

“The sexual abuse is directed, it’s paid for and it’s consumed live by child sex offenders around the world who don’t need to leave the comfort of their home,” Tanagho said.

Children are abused for an average of two years before being rescued, he added, but the trauma is long-lasting.

Mellanie Olano, lead social worker with the International Justice Mission in Manila, told AFP: “It is a bit chaotic whenever we enter the house where the abuse is happening, the children are all crying.”

Young victims are often on high alert, experience hyperarousal, suffer sleep issues, difficulty concentrating and struggle to control their emotions.

“Of course, because most of the perpetrators are the parents... they are separated from their parents,” she added.

In Indonesia – which along with the Philippines has become a global hotspot for child sex abuse – around 20 percent of children surveyed by ECPAT, an international NGO working to end child exploitation, reported predatory behavior online.

“Parents must be even more careful to monitor their children’s online activities because it can take just minutes for them to become a perpetrator or a victim in online crimes,” criminal division head Teuku Rasya Khadafi said. “Everything is there on the internet.”

CHILD ABUSE ONLINE SEX ABUSE
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