Increased law enforcement cooperation is the key to fighting online child abuse

29 May 2013
Press Release
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"Online child abusers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but police agencies are still preventing crimes and bringing criminals to justice more effectively than ever before."

Today sees the release of the latest assessment by the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT), a group of law enforcement agencies from around the globe dedicated to fighting online child sexual abuse. The VGT Environmental Scan combines cutting edge scientific research with unprecedented access to the operational experiences of specialist law enforcement officers. The assessment focuses on the methods used by online child abusers to victimise children and young people, and the ways in which young people may be making themselves more vulnerable to unwanted approaches by adults.

The VGT Environmental Scan has been produced by the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, the European Police Office, with the assistance of VGT agencies and specialist law enforcement officers in the EU Member States. “As Internet technology further develops and previously underconnected parts of the world come online, we can expect to see new offenders, new victims, and new means of committing crimes against children,” says Troels Oerting, Head of EC3. He adds: “The VGT Environmental Scan is a landmark assessment which enables agencies like Europol not only to target offenders more effectively, but to deliver crime prevention measures that keep pace with the ways children and young people use technology in their daily lives.”

Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, says "The report represents a valuable contribution to better understand trends and behaviours of child sexual offenders both online and offline and is a very useful tool to define more effective policies to prevent and fight child sexual abuse. It draws attention to some worrying developments, for example the fact that individuals involved in the distribution of child abusive material are increasingly making use of hidden services, anonymisers and encryption, and the fact that teenagers are more exposed to online grooming and sexual solicitation than younger children.”

The VGT Environmental Scan finds that offenders’ compulsive Internet usage and online networks of abusers may fuel hands-on offending against children and young people. These same networks also use increasingly secure methods to distribute child abusive material, including previously unseen indecent images and videos of children. New material potentially means new abuse. Identifying and locating victims of ongoing abuse is the top priority of specialist officers in VGT agencies.

Also highlighted is an increase in the distribution of sexually explicit images and videos by young people themselves – sometimes known as “sexting” – and the need to make young people aware of how this material may be circulated without their consent, and even used as a tool to blackmail them into sexual activity with an adult. 

Currently chaired by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the VGT aims to make the Internet a safer place, identify, locate and help children at risk and hold perpetrators appropriately to account. The Report Abuse button on the VGT website is an effective way to report suspicious online behaviour – this, the full report and further information can be found at the website of the Virtual Global Taskforce and the website of Europol.