THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The European Union police agency warned Friday that during coronavirus lockdowns offenders are increasingly trying to access material depicting the sexual abuse of children.
“With both children and sexual offenders confined at home, law enforcement authorities have seen in the past few months the amount of child sexual exploitation material shared online increasing globally,” Europol said in a statement.
Offenders are using social media, peer-to-peer networks and the dark web to find and exchange or even sell sexual content featuring children.
Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said that the pandemic “has resulted in a surge in online distribution of child sexual abuse material, which was already at high levels prior to the pandemic.”
She added that, “the impact of this crime area can hardly be overstated and an effective response is of utmost importance.”
A Europol report said that, “in some countries, more sexual abuse offenses, such as online solicitation and sextortion, have also been reported” and added that the global economic crisis sparked by the pandemic could also lead to an increase in offenders producing abuse videos and photos for economic gain.
The Hague-based agency says it is continually monitoring the problem and supporting EU member states as they seek to identify abusers and victims.
“Society, including law enforcement, needs to focus even more on educating children and prevent them from becoming victims" in the first place, Europol said.