• Anika Jusuf

Increase of Child Sexual Abuse Material During COVID-19

Source: Unsplash Janko Ferlic

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge of online activity all over the world. With measures being implemented to encourage people to stay home and minimize contact with others, the internet has been used to help replace the physical interactions that were previously held face-to-face. Not only has the amount of online use has increased, but as well as the way people choose to use it.

Meetings, concerts, gatherings, or any type of social activity that previously relied on in-person interaction has shifted and found a replacement on the online web. With continuous encouragement of worldwide governmental systems, this shift to the online world has had a positive effect on the pandemic and the number of infected cases.

Despite all the benefits that the online world is providing, there is rare discussion of the negative consequences tied to this shift. One main aspect of online usage that should be heavily considered now is cybercrime.

Cybercrime is any criminal activity that is carried through the means of technological devices or the internet. Statistics gathered by INTERPOL have been able to find that cybercrime has faced a drastic increase worldwide as a response to the pandemic. This as well brings the attention towards a demographic that is often deemed the most vulnerable, children.

Children have experienced a large shift towards online usage. Schools worldwide have been forced to shift to online settings as a response to the virus. According to UNICEF, the increased usage of online platforms has led children to become more vulnerable. This increase of internet use is not only contained to educational platforms, but has introduced children to many types of platforms.

The pandemic has limited children from being able to actively socialize with their peers and have close interactions with one another. These restrictions may as well encourage them to engage in more risk-taking behavior that could lead them to be more vulnerable towards cybercrime.

The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (also known as Europol), being concerned with the impact of the pandemic on the organized crime landscape, aimed to monitor how cybercrime would be affected.

According to their research, online child sexual abuse was one of the areas of crime that was affected. During the pandemic, they found a drastic increase of the use and production of child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

There are several issues concerning CSAM and how it may affect the victims. Primarily, victims of CSAM are not only affected by the abuse once. Due to how CSAM is often redistributed and shared through channels for other individuals to abuse, victims of CSAM constantly suffer re-victimization.

Studies have shown that re=victimization has a severe impact on how one may deal with the traumatic event. Re-victimization was found to lead to a higher increase of risk towards post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, children who suffer from forms of sexual abuse are often found to have higher risk of future re-victimization as adults.

Taking into consideration how CSAM may negatively affect the victim, it is also important to understand how CSAM has increased this past year due to the pandemic.

According to Europol, the change in trends was attributed through the increase of time spent at home by both perpetrator and victim. Perpetrators were found to have more time at home, therefore had more time to access these materials, research finding that this increase reached 106% globally. In addition, the creation of these CSAM may be more accessible due to children’s increased home presence.

There are several ways CSAM may be created. Self-generated explicit material (SGEM) is a common source of CSAM. This SGEM may be produced voluntarily or through coercion or extortion. Due to the decrease in physical contact, minors were found to be more vulnerable to inappropriate solicitations. They are as well more likely to send SGEM to fellow peers. In addition, when offenders gain these materials they may use them to coerce minors to produce more.

CSAM may as well be generated due to first-hand child sexual abuse. Abusers sometimes decide to record their own physical and sexual abuse against children. This abuse is often praised or perpetuated by the demand of the materials. In addition, abusers may profit by sharing or selling the videos.

How can one help decrease the production, distribution and the detrimental effects of CSAM?

According to Europol, agencies, law enforcement, non-governmental and international organizations are in constant cooperation in the fight against child sexual exploitation. Together, they are constantly coordinating strategies and operational responses towards child sexual exploitation during the pandemic.

In addition to that, they stressed that awareness and prevention campaigns play an important role in highlighting the risks that children may face online. Studies have as well shown that the role that parents play is important in being able to show children how to appropriately use the internet. Not only that, but schools as well need to as well increase their digital literacy to be able to guide children with their internet usage.


Speaking plainly:

  • COVID-19 pandemic has heavily affected how much individuals use the internet and what they use it for

  • There has been an increase of risk towards cybercrime due to the pandemic

  • Both perpetrators and victims of CSAM are spending an increasingly amount of time at home, increasing the risk of CSAM

  • More prevention and awareness programs should be implemented in order to help increase awareness towards CSAM and how to actively counteract it