Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has increased during the COVID-19 crisis, in both online and offline worlds. Yet its identification through the child protection system remains minimal, despite continuing growth in police reports of sexual crimes against children. Why is this? And can it be changed?
As one English support charity experiencing a surge in children’s referrals since lockdown wrote, the mantra ‘Stay home, stay safe’ has tragically been, for many children, the exact opposite: “they were more vulnerable, more isolated and more alone”. Scottish support charities have also reported a rise in referrals to the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Survivors of CSA.
The Internet Watch Foundation revealed that in a single month since lockdown, three major companies logged 8.8 million hits to CSA imagery from the UK alone. Reports of such imagery increased by almost 50 per cent during lockdown as offenders spent longer online, while many more children were virtually imprisoned with domestic perpetrators. Interpol’s research also strongly indicates increased CSA, particularly via the surface web, in peer-to-peer forums and on the dark web.