When the government announced the early closure of schools following the coronavirus outbreak, the immediate concern was that standard safeguarding procedures could be forgotten about, leaving children vulnerable to exploitation to those who would mean to do them harm, for their own sexual gratification. Within a short period of time this risk appeared to substantially reduce following the declaration of a national emergency and the imposition of a lockdown. However, other risks remain, making children vulnerable to sexual predators.
Exploitation of Children through Social Media
Although, on the face of it, children being at home should result in less risk of harm, that may not necessarily be the case. Over the last few years we have seen an increase in the use of social media to exploit children and teenagers. Importantly, a report from Europol, the European police agency highlights an increased risk of children being targeted by those with evil intent.
Children and teenagers exploited for the sexual gratification of paedophiles, can cause significant and long-term harm. It’s important not to ignore the consequences of such harm. It takes courage to talk about such abuse, although it is understood why victims delay reporting sexual assaults. However, making a report can be the first step to addressing the mental health problems that can result from abuse.
What is Europol?
Europol is the European Union’s law enforcement agency, the main goal of which is to achieve a safer Europe for the benefit of all EU citizens. It is based in The Hague, Holland. It principally works with the EU member states but also works with many non-EU partner states and international organisations, to the benefit of all citizens.
What are the risks of child sexual exploitation arising out of Coronavirus?
Although it is conceded that online child sexual exploitation material cannot be measured precisely, there are indicators that can assist in determining the scope of exploitation and whether there is an increase in the publication and distribution of child sexual material.
The monitoring by Europol reports that some countries have reported an increase in the number of attempts to access illegal websites which feature child sexual exploitation material. Specifically, Spain has noted a significant increase in the number of complaints about child sexual exploitation material online, since March 2020. Denmark too has reported an increase.
What is child sexual exploitation?
This often involves a young person being given food, accommodation, drugs, affection, gifts or money in return for performing sexual activities. Violence, intimidation and coercion are regularly seen in cases of child sexual exploitation. Paedophiles will target vulnerable children and teenagers.
Monitoring by Europol of online posts and forum chat, specifically interested in child sexual exploitation, reveals paedophiles are stating their increased interest in image trading and attempts to initiate contact with children using social media platforms. This analysis shows that there are discussions between paedophiles about how they may be able to take advantage of the Covid 19 pandemic and the lockdown.
Is the risk of online child sexual exploitation during the lockdown likely to be short term?
The Government has declared a lockdown of three weeks. However, conscious that the public has already been warned that some form of restriction may last for up to 6 months, these restrictions may be welcomed by paedophiles who seek sexual gratification from the abuse of children online. The conclusions of Europol are that:
- Paedophiles are likely to seek to take advantage of emotionally vulnerable and isolated children through grooming, sexual coercion and sexual extortion.
- With parents running out of ideas to entertain, children may be allowed greater unsupervised Internet access, which will increase the exposure to risk.
- If adults are placed under increased stress, due to ill health and a slowdown in their own economic activity, their monitoring of children’s online engagement may reduce, leaving children exposed.
- Children and teenagers may become inclined to produce child sexual exploitation material, for exchange with their peers, to pass to others, including adults
What can be done to help children who are victims of online sexual exploitation?
Although understood, it is unlikely to be helpful for a child to bury the fact they have been exploited. The consequences of sexual assault is understood, both by law enforcement agencies and health professionals. Therefore, to ensure the child obtains the maximum support, it is likely to be helpful to report the child sexual exploitation to the police, to seek medical help, initially speaking with the child GP, and to consider a claim for compensation. Although there has been an increase in state funding for treatment, compensation can be used to access private medical healthcare, i.e. mental health services, over a long-term basis, to ensure the child receives the necessary support for as long as is reasonably necessary, to enable them to overcome the consequences of being abused online.
Contact specialist child sexual abuse lawyers today
Contact our no win, no fee child-abuse solicitors now, for advice on how to make a claim for the harm caused by abuse, including online child sexual exploitation, or to simply consider what options and possibilities are available, without any obligation. Call us today on 0333 123 9099, email email@example.com or fill in our online form.