Babies and toddlers are at greater risk of severe online sexual abuse, a new study by international police agency Interpol has shown.
The report, which makes for bleak reading, found that the younger the child, the worse the abuse is likely to be.
“Unfortunately most people do not realise that when we talk about child abuse, we are also speaking about very young children, babies who are just months old, being the victims of extreme sexual assault,” said Bjorn Sellstrom, Interpol’s Crimes Against Children unit coordinator.
The report, produced together with ECPAT International, was based on a study of photos and videos in Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation database.
A detailed examination was conducted of a random selection of 800 series of videos and images. Of these, 84 per cent contained explicit sexual activity, assault, gross assault, sadism or other ‘problematic paraphilias’ such as bestiality, humiliation or necrophilia.
More than 60 per cent of unidentified victims were prepubescent, including infants and toddlers.
Very young children were also more likely to be subjected to abuse and exploitation featuring an additional paraphilic theme.
A link between gender and level of abuse was also identified, with severe abuse images more likely to feature boys.
Most offenders were men, although women were also involved in the abuse and exploitation of children.
The report highlights the urgent need for better understanding of online exploitation and for more resources to be allocated toward victim identification.
Experts believe that the vast majority of online child sexual abuse material is made by those in the victim’s circle of trust. Identifying the victim is a priority because as well as providing an opportunity to remove the child from harm, it is often the first step in identifying the offender.
“Victim identification is at the core of INTERPOL’s work in connecting global investigations into online child sexual abuse,” Mr Sellstrong said.
Dorothy Rozga, Executive Director of ECPAT International, added that there is a pressing need to address the lack of research on unidentified children depicted in this kind of material.
“What is needed now is coordinated global action. Almost all countries in the world have committed to ending the sexual exploitation of children. But you can’t end what you can’t measure,” said Ms Rozga.
To date more than 12,000 victims of child sexual abuse around the world have been identified via the ICSE database.