Violence against sexually exploited children online has become more severe and victims are getting younger, an international conference on family law and children’s rights was told on Sunday.
Speaking on the global realities of child exploitation, Commander Lesa Gale, of the Australian Federal Police, said each day, the police assessment centre in Australia receives imagery depicting infants being sexually abused.
“Officers are reporting a disturbing trend focusing on pain and death involving babies and toddlers,” she said.
“Producers of such material are trying to shock and go to the next level of violence which has created an almost competitive environment. Innocent children are trading cards in these circles that have an insatiable appetite for such material.”
Ms Gale was speaking at the opening of the four-day World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights in Dublin. Some 150 Irish and international speakers will attend the event along with more than 600 delegates.
The police officer said last month the International Justice Mission, an organisation that works to protect impoverished communities around the world from violence, said 54 per cent of victims rescued by the mission were under 12 years of age. The youngest victim rescued, just a few weeks ago, was two months old. And a 2015 report from NetClean, which produces technology to fight child abuse on line, stated that violence against children recorded in images and videos had become more severe in the past three years, Ms Gale said.
“Victims are getting younger and younger,” she told delegates.
She said of the 3.7 billion internet users worldwide, more than 750,000 are child predators. Online child exploitation was difficult to track and investigate, she said, given secure technologies and the anonymity provided by the dark web and less traceable payment systems.
Content was based on “a simple economic principle of supply and demand”, she said, and a UN report in 2009 estimated child exploitation images generated between $3 billion and $20 billion dollars a year.
In 2016, the Global Study found sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism had expanded worldwide and outpaced every attempt to respond.
“No region is untouched by this crime and no country is immune,” she warned.
She also said that in Australia and around the world rates of live-stream child abuse, via webcam, video footage and image capture was growing.
“We will continue to see an increase in live distant child abuse where a buyer can not only pay for the live sexual abuse inflicted on a child, like you would rent a movie, but they can pay to direct the film,” she said.
She highlighted the We Protect Global Alliance, set up in 2012, to end sexual exploitation of children. The alliance has 63 signatories, including Australia and Ireland. She said it was important governments were aware of the facts of “this atrocious crime”.
Also speaking at the opening day of the congress was Fiona McCormack, chief executive of DV Victoria, Australia, and Lesley Podesta, chief executive of Australian children’s charity, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.