The massive increase in online child sexual abuse and exploitation sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated, INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock told the World Economic Forum in Davos.
In a panel on cyber security, Secretary General Stock said reporting by private industry and public hotlines, in addition to law enforcement exchanges, has shown a consistently rising number of online child abuse images, with 2021 the worst year on record.
The growth of Internet connectivity is set to see even greater numbers of children being abused and exploited online.
“The sheer volume of images is already overwhelming law enforcement worldwide unless the public and private sectors do more to unify our efforts, we will only see this disturbing upward trend in cases grow.” said Stock. “If we are to more effectively tackle online child sexual abuse and exploitation, we cannot waste time duplicating efforts or not sharing information. Children’s lives are at risk.”
Self-generated content, where a child victim is groomed and coerced into creating images and video of their abuse has grown significantly. Offenders record their interactions with images of the victim shared through online platforms or networks. Live-streaming of child sexual exploitation for payment has also seen an increase in recent years.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse require long-term recovery to deal with their trauma. The repeated sharing of images and videos portraying the abuse re-victimizes survivors and hinders their recovery.
INTERPOL’s International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database provides a global platform to help identify victims and their abusers. The database avoids duplication of effort and saves precious time by letting investigators know whether a series of images has already been discovered or identified in another country, or whether it has similar features to other images.
Every day, the ICSE database helps investigators around the world identify an average of seven child abuse victims, and since its creation has helped identify and document more than 12,500 offenders.