HomeTechChild sex abuse material: Few cases solved, report finds

Child sex abuse material: Few cases solved, report finds

Despite rising reports of child sexual abuse material circulating online in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, few cases have actually been solved in Canada, a new report from Statistics Canada highlights.

The federal agency reported on Thursday that between 2014 and 2020, incidents involving child sex abuse material have largely driven rising rates of overall online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

From 2019 to 2020 alone, possessing or accessing child sex abuse material rose 33 per cent, while the making or distributing of it increased by 35 per cent.

Although StatCan uses “child pornography” in its report, a term also used in Canada’s Criminal Code, advocates say pornography implies consent.

But while more incidents are being reported to police, 85 per cent were not cleared, meaning police were unable to identify an accused person.

Of the cases that were cleared, 64 per cent resulted in charges.

For the purposes of the report, StatCan says incidents of “child pornography” are cases where the victim has not been identified.

“This means that, in addition to these incidents not having any victim information, no accused persons were identified,” a more detailed version of the report says.

“This could be in part due to the fact that even when an incident is reported to police, often anonymously, it is still difficult to locate or pinpoint the exact location of the accused. This is especially true when the child pornography was discovered in, or accessed using, a public or communal space or internet protocol address, and with an accused who may have changed locations.”


While overall police-reported crime had been trending down leading up to 2020, with lockdown restrictions also resulting in fewer in-person crimes being reported, the number of online child sexual exploitation and abuse incidents has risen, according to the report.

Acts considered online child sexual exploitation and abuse include child sex abuse material, sexting materials, sextortion, grooming and luring, live child sexual abuse streaming and made-to-order content.

In 2020, StatCan says the overall rate stood at 131 incidents per 100,000 children and youth, an increase from the rate of 50 incidents per 100,000 children reported in 2014.

The rate of police-reported online child sex abuse material, meanwhile, rose 35 per cent to 101 incidents per 100,000 children and youth in 2020.

Between 2014 and 2020, police reported 29,028 incidents of online child sex abuse material.

The agency says while better police training and more victims being willing to report could be contributing to a rise in reported incidents, research shows that only a fraction of sexual offences are actually reported to police, with crimes involving child victims potentially even more underreported.

The increased use of smart devices, instant messaging, live streaming and improved anonymity also allow offenders to better hide their activities and make investigating incidents more difficult, StatCan says.

“As a result, police-reported data likely underestimate the true extent of this form of abuse in Canada,” StatCan says.

More than seven-in-10 child and youth victims of sexual exploitation and abuse are girls aged 12 to 17, and 13 per cent are younger than 12.

Boys aged 12 to 17 make up 11 per cent of victims, while those younger than 12 make up three per cent of all victims.

Of the 9,766 people accused of online child sex exploitation and abuse, between 2014 and 2020, 91 per cent were men and boys. 



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