Child Sexual Exploitation: Spiking Worldwide Amid Lockdowns

Police supporting a campaign by Stop It Now!, a project in the UK and in Ireland, report that there has been an increase in online grooming and more people have been accessing pornographic images of children online.

According to police, 1,460 people from Northern Ireland have contacted the Stop It Now! Helpline and self-help website in 2019 to address their behavior.

Police said, in the past year, its child protection team conducted 87 searches and made 47 arrests of online sex offenders; in 2018 to 2019, they made 121 searches and 79 arrests; and, in 2017 to 2018, they made 158 searches and 87 arrests.

The head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland's public protection branch said they are aware that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, "children are more likely to be online at the moment when they're not at school."

They are also aware that "people are not working or have been furloughed and generally have more time."

For this reason, there has been an increase in the number of people on the internet.

What seems worrisome to the police is that parents may also be busy working from home and may not have enough time to look after their children's online activity.

Police are also trying to reach out to people "who may have sexualized thoughts of children 'to stop that behaviour.'" They have also advised these people to contact Stop It Now! since the organization may be able to help them via their confidential helpline and website for anyone concerned about child sexual abuse.

Police have also warned those who have offended that they "will take absolutely robust action when a crime is reported to us." BBC News "Coronavirus: Increased risk of online child sexual abuse" https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-52962266 (Jun. 08, 2020).

Commentary and Checklist

According to a report by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in April 2020, there are at least 300,000 individuals in the UK who pose a sexual threat to children, either through physical contact abuse or online.

NCA investigators also found that it is possible to access child sexual abuse content on the open web in only three clicks. Furthermore, they also found online chat forums where offenders have been discussing opportunities to abuse children during the COVID-19 crisis.

In the U.S., according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), by the end of March 2020, when most of the country was already under lockdown, there was a 22 percent increase in monthly calls from people younger than 18, and 50 percent of all incoming contacts were from minors. According to RAINN, that was a first in the organization’s history.

Safe adults are vigilant as to what is happening around them. Child sexual abuse victims need help from safe adults.

What should safe adults do if they suspect that a child is being abused?

  • Learn to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse (e.g. behavior - shrinking away from physical contact; physical - blood on undergarments; verbal - unexplained silence or words or phrases that are "too adult" for the child's age).
  • Listen to what the child has to say. Avoid being judgmental or accusatory.
  • Report the matter to local child protection authorities. If you are concerned about the child's safety, discuss this with the authorities when you make the report.
  • You can call or text the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline at 800.422.4453 and a trained volunteer can help you go through the process of reporting the abuse. They cannot make the report for you.
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