As soon as one case is closed, another opens up. More child sexual abuse (CSA) cases emerge every day and each case could contain new or unidentified victims. Johann Hofmann explores the challenges facing investigators today and explain why victim identification is key to solving the puzzle.
In the 1990s, before we all became consumed by the Internet, the Home Office confiscated a total of 7,000 hard copies of illegal images involving children. Today, millions of illegal images and videos of child exploitation are in circulation online.
According to our survey of 224 police investigators across 11 countries, law enforcement teams are dealing with ‘more data’ and ‘more cases’ than ever before. As soon as one illegal site is shut down or trading ring exposed, another opens up. At the time of you reading this, thousands of unidentified children are being abused in different parts of the world. Criminals are creating new content every day and sending it to all corners of the web.
Victim centric approach
Law enforcement units around the world are working together to seek out victims and offenders of CSA. But historically the approach has been largely based around seeking prosecution for consumers of CSA material, rather than focusing on identifying the victims depicted in the material being traded online.
The good news is that 47 per cent of the investigators in our study do take advantage of specialised technology such as theNetClean Analyze platform to work on victim identification every time they do analysis. As a result of this, they identify new victims, contribute information to support open cases, and catalogue data on known victims. Yet, more than one in 10 cases (14 per cent) never do any identification work during analysis even though they have the technological means. For those without the tools and training the numbers are devastating with only a handful of cases involving victim identification work.
This statistic may seem shocking to most readers but the investigators amongst you will recognise this as a vast improvement compared to the past few years.
Our hope is that with the technology in place, victim identification will be an increasingly important part of CSA investigations. Finding children means tracking down the offenders. To win the battle, we must tackle it from the root of the cause.