From the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have all feared that lockdowns would lead to a rise in child abuse and exploitation. Unfortunately, the early evidence seems to show our fears are being realized. A few weeks ago, we shared about the rise in domestic violence and how difficult it is for victims of domestic violence to escape their abuser when they’re cooped up and stressed out in the same home. Now, news is starting to circulate about the rise in online sexual exploitation.
In Thailand, the Internet Crimes Against Children police-led taskforce said it had been receiving reports of online sex abuse on a daily basis, with victims as young as eight years old. (Source: Reuters)
Why Online Exploitation is of Concern
When students are cooped up at home, they may be spending more time online – and even more so if it’s required for their schooling. Many who didn’t have access to the internet at home, have now had to find a way to get online so they can access their education – but that also removes the barrier to online exploitation that once was there.
Similarly on the demand side, perpetrators of exploitation have more time and/or are actually pushed online due to lockdowns. Although the exploitation might not happen “in person,” it is still incredibly damaging psychologically to the victim, and worse, there may never be a way for the victim to erase the evidence of their exploitation. Once online, it might always be there for others to find, extending the exploitation indefinitely.
How We’re Witnessing the Rise
There are several indicators showing the rise of online child sexual exploitation.
- Law enforcement agencies are reporting that they are seeing a rise in cases and that offenders are getting more brazen about it. “‘Law enforcement across the region have reported that there is an increase and some of our members have also reported they are seeing changes in the modus operandi of the offenders seeking children,’ Lemineur [from ECPAT] says….More brazen, offenders are eschewing the dark web for more conventional platforms, says the Philippines-based Tanagho.”
- NGOs and child advocacy groups are reporting a rise in calls to crisis hotlines.
- Law enforcement can also monitor a rise in the number of attempts to access illegal websites, an increase in expressions of interest in finding illicit material on online forums, and increased conversations between offenders. They’re seeing a rise in online grooming and extortion as well.
Protect Your Kids
- If they’re getting online, talk to them about the importance of online safety: not engaging with people they don’t know, and that a predator might even be someone they do know.
- Tell them that if something happens that makes them uncomfortable, they should close the app and tell a trusted adult.
- Be a safe place for children to come to and discuss their worries – listen without judgment or interruption.
- Remind them that this is not their fault. Blame always lies with the offender.
Here are some online resources for you.