Online child sex abuse is a global crime pandemic, Australian researchers warned on Thursday, as a new study painted a disturbing picture of the systematic exploitation of children around the world.
An investigation by Anti-Slavery Australia at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), found modern technology and ease of access to the internet have helped in enabling new and alarming forms of child abuse, including pay-for-view online streaming.
Despite the efforts of Australian law enforcement, figures in the report showed a 400 percent rise in the volume of child sexual abuse imagery in Australia between 2013 and 2015.
Senior lecturer of Law at UTS, Ian Dobinson, told Xinhua that despite considering himself a “hardened criminal justice researcher who’s heard it all,” this time what he found during the investigation left him shocked.
“This is a huge global problem and it needs to be high on our agenda. It involves the most vulnerable people in the world, children,” Dobinson said on Thursday.
“The extent of the problem is severely understated because it’s just so horrific that we have problems addressing it. It hasn’t generated the massive uproar it should have and more should be done.”
Live-streaming abuse via webcam, as well as other digital forms of child abuse, are on the rise not just in Australia, but also internationally according to the researchers.
Professor Jennifer Burn, the director of Anti-Slavery Australia and a professor of Law at UTS, said the “chilling” data reveals “the dark side of the internet.”
“The landscape of exploitation has changed rapidly over the last few years, with rapid increases in file storage and sharing, as well as filming and uploading becoming incredibly easy,” Burn told Xinhua on Thursday.
“New technology is being used to facilitate grave exploitation of children. It’s tragic harm that is done to them with a lifetime of consequences.”
The report found that modern offenders are no longer getting caught with an album of online images, but rather tens of thousands of images and videos involving children, and increasingly, babies and toddlers.
Encryption devices and anonymity networks are making it increasingly difficult for police to catch offenders, particularly in cases where the videos are only available for a short period of time.
“Streaming raises real difficulties for investigators because it can be quite hard to find evidence as the video is there one moment and gone the next,” Burn said.
Another difficulty investigators face is that it is almost impossible to create a profile of what an online child sex offender is, whether they are a producer or a viewer.
Dobinson referred to a recent case which shocked the Australian public early this year, when a notable television presenter was charged over alleged child pornography offences.
“It was a classic example of how hard it is to suggest a profile of who a perpetrator is, they come from all sorts of backgrounds, social standings and there’s no real demographic,” he said.
“One disturbing thing in relation to Australia is that some of the perpetrators play quite a leading role in disseminating these horrible images.”
In 2015, an Australian man was charged as the founder of a global child abuse network, with his website at the time it was shut down having attracted over 3 million hits, and servicing over 45,000 subscribers.
The report said there are more than 100 known Australian online-based child sex offenders, and demand on the “darknet” is fuelling further growth in the online child exploitation industry.
“With evidence of this abuse expanding online, immediate action is needed to ensure there is no repeat of this dark and devastating history (of child sex abuse). We can’t say we didn’t know,” said Sally Treeby of the Rainbow Fish Foundation, a philanthropy group that provided some funding for the report.
The researchers recommended that a coordinated response is the only way to protect children, with considerable need for national and global cooperation to stop online exploitation. Enditem