COVID-19 lockdowns across Australia have been followed by a dramatic spike in the number of people being investigated for child sex offences.
Since February Tasmania’s Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team has launched 38 investigations into child sex offences, a 280 per cent increase compared to the same time last year.
JACET Detective Senior Sergeant Nikala Parsons said nationally police were seeing an increase in the number of people being charged with child exploitation related offences, with numbers in Tasmania following the trend.
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“Because of the borderless nature of the crime, with the technology, what we are seeing is fairly consistent with the other states and territories across Australia, but also around the world,” Detective Senior Sergeant Parsons said.
Between April and Junethere was a 163 per cent increase in child exploitation activity around Australia, compared to the same time last year. The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation has also received 7000 more reports from social media companies about online instances of child exploitation material, compared to the same time last year.
Australian Federal Police Detective Sergeant Aaron Hardcastle said there were a variety of reasons for the increase in activity.
“Unfortunately society as a whole has got a large appetite for it. You’ve got more and more opportunities through the dark web to access some of this material, there is a lot more material being posted because a lot of these chat groups, as part of their membership conditions, require people to produce new material so there is constantly more new material being put up,” he said.
“COVID, unfortunately, has provided people who are at home, may not be employed, or lost their jobs or whatever it might be – they are spending more time at home and they are spending more time with their kids. Those sorts of factors come into play when you’re talking about, not just the online, but also contact offending.
“Particularly during the lockdown of COVID … there appeared to be a little bit less supervision and there was an increase in the presence online by both children and offenders. Naturally if you combine those two you are going to get an increase in that behaviour.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Parsons said traditionally, offending relating to child exploitation was committed by older people. However, as technology has become more accessible they have seen more offences committed by young people. She said the JACET team was committed to protecting children and bringing offenders to justice.
Detective Sergeant Hardcastle added that the ThinkUKnow website was a good source of information for parents or young people who were worried about child exploitation online.
“There is a couple of different packages. There is a younger age group, there is a mid-teenage group and you’ve also got the parent group,” he said.
“It provides kids with some coping mechanisms if things aren’t going well and also how they can be responsible online.”
Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said more and more often children were being coaxed into producing exploitation material.
“I am deeply concerned by the tsunami of online child sexual abuse material that is reflected in the reports coming in to eSafety, as well as our partner hotlines across the world,” she said. “A rising proportion of this material has been elicited from child victims remotely, with their own devices being exploited to coax them into providing intimate images or videos.”
She said there was no reason for parents to panic and urged them to be more active in their children’s online lives.
“Know the apps and platforms your children are using, and understand the parental and privacy settings available,” Ms Inman Grant said.
“While parental controls are fine and important, nothing beats a parental presence. You would never drop your six-year-old off at a busy shopping mall at night and tell them to wander freely. Why on earth would you allow them to wander, unaccompanied and unprotected, across the badlands of the internet?”
Crimes can also be reported anonymously to CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000.
If this article raises concerns for you or anyone you know contact the 24-hour national sexual assault and family violence counselling service on 1800 737 732.
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