The coronavirus crisis has led to a sharp increase in the sexual exploitation of children via the Internet, Europol announced on Friday.
“During the corona lockdown children’s lives promptly shifted even further from the real world into an online virtual one. Sex offenders have found in this development a tempting opportunity to access a broader group of potential victims,” Europol warned.
To do so, they have “increased their criminal activities in social media, via peer-to-peer networks and on the dark web,” according to Europol.
There was “a clear increase” in the number of referrals to Europol between March and May 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
“Attempts to access websites featuring child sexual abuse material, calls to helplines and activities in dark net and surface web chats sharing child abuse material have all increased during the confinement period.”
“Although the exchange of child abuse material is usually not motivated by financial gains, offenders pay for some forms of it, such as live distant child abuse,” Europol said. “Through livestreaming, offenders unable to travel due, for example, to corona restrictions can have children abused at their request.”
“Child abuse material content can also be disguised behind advertisements bringing criminals profits with a “pay per click” formula. The economic slowdown related to the pandemic may stimulate an increase of child abuse material produced within vulnerable communities for economic gain,” they added.
Europol said they were “monitoring the threat and providing continuous support to Member States to identify offenders and victims” and launching a campaign to bring “awareness to children on the dangers they face sharing explicit material online.”
The Brussels Times