Increase in Online Child Exploitation with COVID-19

New research points to the intersections between the COVID-19 pandemic and human trafficking. Children are at greater risk of sexual exploitation online due to more unsupervised internet access during lockdown periods and an increase in anxiety amongst children.[1],[2] Victims of trafficking are at heightened vulnerability for contracting COVID-19 due to existing health inequalities and barriers that victims face in accessing health care.[3] Children in low-income communities are at heightened risk for exploitation due to the economic recession and subsequent poverty which is occurring as a result of COVID-19.[4] Recession may also result in children working instead of going to school, increasing their risk of being trafficked.[5]

During the COVID-19 lockdown period, there has been an increase in child sexual abuse activity on both the surface and dark webs. Between February 2020 and the end of March 2020, there has been an increase in over 200% of known child sex abuse forum posts on the clearnet (internet readily accessible by the public) linking to images and videos containing child sexual abuse material (CSAM).[6] The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports an increase of 106% in global reports of suspected child sexual exploitation to its CyberTipline from March 2019 to March 2020.[7] Additionally, since tourism has reduced due to travel restrictions, it is likely that tourism sex buyers will shift their attention online, and that demand for online CSAM will continue beyond the pandemic.[8] Since the pandemic started, there has been an increase in child pornography, as well as an increase in the time that children and adolescents spend online (increasing their risk of contact with predators and traffickers) and the potential for increased adult demand for pornography with more isolated time at home.[9] Sex work has been advertised as work for individuals who are unemployed due to COVID-19, and pimps and pornography websites have seen an increase in ‘models’ during the pandemic.[10] The Australian E-Safety Commissioner has found that child abusers created and disseminated and online manual of how other abusers can groom and manipulate children online during COVID-19.[11]

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[1] WePROTECT Global Alliance, “Impact of COVID-19 on Online Child Sexual Exploitation,” WePROTECT Global Alliance Intelligence Brief, Retrieved from [2] David Wright, “Covid-19: Expectations and Effects on Children Online,” Safe, Secure, Online, June 18, 2020. [3] Richard Armitage and Laura B. Nellums, “COVID-19: Compounding the Health-Related Harms of Human Trafficking,” E Clinical Medicine 24 (June 2020): 100409. [4] Shanti Raman et al., “Where Do We Go From Here? A Child Rights-Based Response to COVID-19,” BMJ Paediatrics Open Journal 4, no. 1 (2020): e000714. [5] Ritwick Ghosh et al., “Impact of COVID-19 on Children: Special Focus on the Psychosocial Aspect,” Minerva Pediatrica 72, no. 3 (June 2020): 226-35. [6] Louise Donovan and Corinne Redfern, “Online Child Abuse Flourishes as Investigators Struggle with Workload During Pandemic,” The Telegraph, April 27, 2020. [7] Tsitsi Matekaire, “COVID-19 Conversations: The Crisis of Online Child Sexual Exploitation,” Equality Now, May 08, 2020. [8] Europol, Exploiting Isolation: Offenders and Victims of Online Child Sexual Abuse During the COVID-19 Pandemic (The Hague: Europol, 2020). [9] Jörg M. Fegert et al., “Challenges and Burden of the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic for Child and Adolescent Mental Health: A Narrative Review to Highlight Clinical and Research Needs in the Acute Phase and the Long Return to Normality,” Child Adolescent Psychiatry Mental Health 14, no. 20. [10] Melissa Farley, “Prostitution, the Sex Trade, and the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture 19, no. 1 (Spring 2020). [11] Melissa Davey, “Child Abuse Predator ‘Handbook’ Lists Ways to Target Children During Coronavirus Lockdown,” The Guardian, May 13, 2020.


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