Warning: This blog contains content on sexual abuse which may be triggering.

It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of online sexual exploitation for children. Since the global lockdown, many people are spending more time online, and so are predators – what can be more dangerous than a quarantined child sex offender having access to communicate with vulnerable children who are also confined at home?

What is Online Sexual Exploitation

Online child sexual exploitation refers to the usage of the internet or communication technologies as a way to facilitate the sexual abuse of children and adolescents.

According to Compassion Canada, online sexual exploitation, also known as cybersex trafficking, is the act of forcing children to remove their clothes and perform unspeakable acts in front of a cell phone or computer camera. These videos are streamed to online predators from anywhere in the world in real time—in most cases, by their own parents or relatives.

“In 2021, IWF investigated 361,000 reports. Of those 252,000 were confirmed to be URLs containing images or videos of child sexual abuse. The 2021 figures show a 21% rise in the number of reports investigated, and a 64% increase in the number of actioned reports.”

What Does Online Child Exploitation Look Like?

No child is immune to the possibility of sexual exploitation. Regardless of your age, race, gender, or background, it exists and can include a wide range of behaviours and situations. As the number of children accessing the internet increases, so does this risk of opportunities for children to be enticed and exploited.

  • Online Grooming: A technique predators use to befriend or develop a relationship with a minor in order to gain their trust. This can include gifts, money, flattery, etc.
  • Sextortion: Coercing a victim into giving sexually explicit material, including images or videos through threats or manipulation.
  • Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM): Distributing, creating, sharing any images or videos of children that can be depicted as being engaged in any form of sexual activity.
  • Self-generated Sexual Material: Sexually explicit content created of a child, taken by the child who is under eighteen.

“Of 14-17 year-olds in the UK, 12-49% have received sexual images or messages and 26-38% have sent sexual images or messages”

Who is Most at Risk?

Although online sexual exploitation occurs in every country and across all levels of society, children in poverty are the most vulnerable. Predators tend to go for children who are the poorest, most desperate, and live in isolated communities. A family in poverty are sometimes limited with options. Exploiting their child, even by selling a photo, promises fast money that can earn them what they make in a year, in a week.

In much of the developing world, millions of children continue to suffer sexual exploitation and are subjected to other exploitative forms including prostitution and pornography. One in particular is the Philippines. Despite updated legislation in the Philippines, including the anti-trafficking in Persons ActCybercrime Prevention Act, and the anti-Child Pornography Law, an increase in reports of online sexual exploitation in children in the Philippines has been recorded by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

“According to NCMEC, online sexual exploitation of children increased from 1,339,597 in 2020 to 3,188,793 in 2021, the second highest in the world behind India.”

Netsweeper’s Commitment to Combat

The dark web has continued to keep up with cutting-edge technology and trends to create and distribute CSAM to further exploit children, making it difficult for governments and law enforcements to prosecute these terrible crimes.

Luckily, there is now cybersecurity and software that exists to help block this disturbing content and fight against these rising threats. Netsweeper’s nFilter web filtering platform finds suspected CSAM URLs and reports them to partner organizations, including the Internet Watch Foundation and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection for investigation and further action.

We are also partners with alliances including WeProtect and Project Arachnid who are dedicated to creating a digital world designed to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse by bringing together experts and using technology that detects that will develop policies and solutions to protect children.

You can read more about what Netsweeper stands for on our Social Responsibility page.