Pandemic, lockdowns contributed to astronomical rise in child exploitation 

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


A recent report by an international child advocacy group indicates that as children were forced indoors and into isolation, instances of child exploitation rose to harrowing new heights. 

According to the Global Assessment Threat 2021 report released by the WeProtect Global Alliance, from 2019 to 2020 child-produced sexual content rose by nearly 80% and the U. S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children processed and average of 60,000 reports of child sexual abuse online every day.

“The COVID pandemic is certainly something that we believe is behind some of the spikes that we’ve seen,” Chloe Setter, head of policy at WeProtect, said in the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s been a perfect storm of conditions with more young people online than ever before and more apps and platforms available.”

The WeProtect Global Alliance is an organization that brings together experts from government, the private sector and civil society to protect children from sexual abuse online.  

According to the report, the 10 most notorious child exploitation sites on the dark web were home to a combined 3 million accounts. 

Additionally, reports from the public of online sexual exploitation more than doubled, although the WeProtect authors argued that the spike in reporting might be attributable to increased awareness rather than a true increase in crimes committed.  “Increased reporting may not necessarily equate to a proportionate increase in offending: some may be due to increased public awareness and more proactive detection by online service providers,” the report reads. 

However, the organization discovered a marked increase in online grooming, the volume of child sexual abuse material available online, the distribution of child sexual abuse material, and the livestreaming of child sexual abuse.  “The scale and rate of change is unprecedented,” the report reads. 

Most alarming, researchers found that children in lockdowns faced added risk of being victimized by members of their own families. “The prevailing stereotype of ‘stranger danger’ is not borne out by the evidence,” the report reads. “Child sexual abuse is often perpetrated by family members, with indications this has been exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions.” 

WeProtect offered four focus areas that its experts believe are critical to solving this problem: improvements in policy/legislation, voluntary cooperation from tech companies, societal initiatives, and increased funding to law enforcement. 

“Governments must increase their investment in law enforcement,” the report reads. “This would improve national digital policing capabilities and enable more collaboration on technically sophisticated and cross-border offending through the creation of multi-national, (specialized) investigative units.”

The Global Threat report was a synthesis of an international survey of 5,000 children and statistics from numerous governmental, academic, and nonprofit organizations. According to the report’s authors, this was the most comprehensive assessment ever produced by WeProtect.