Ten thousand child sex abuse victims have been identified in the last seven years, but INTERPOL says it is only the tip of the iceberg.
The organisation runs a database which enables police around the world to locate victims using images uploaded online. The clues can be a bottle of water specific to a country, a cuddly toy or a TV show playing in the background.
In one case, British police rescued a child and arrested the abuser just 10 hours after Australian police contacted INTERPOL.
We spoke to the man who heads INTERPOL’s Vulnerable Communities unit, Mick Moran about the challenges of policing online child sex abuse.
Joanna Gill, euronews: Now Interpol has identified 10,000 victims, a crucial milestone, but it’s been described as the tip of the iceberg. What’s the reality?
Mick Moran, INTERPOL: Unfortunately the huge advantages within this information technology revolution, means that the idea of having a sexual interest in children is hugely facilitated. Part of that is that we see a proliferation of child abuse material… We can talk about the number of identified victims that we have, but we also should keep in mind the number of unidentified victims. There are hundreds of thousands of unidentified victims out there.
Gill: Currently 49 countries are using the database, why aren’t more. Is it a lack resources, a lack of will or are there legal issues preventing better cooperation?
Moran: One of the key things that is missing is political support- you ask any politician, what are you doing. They respond ‘we’re doing this and this.” – that doesn’t translate down to police units, there’s a big competition for resources.”
Gill: Online privacy has become a civil rights issue but how can it be balanced with protecting vulnerable children?
Moran: Oftentimes when we have a victim as being identified as a victim of child sexual abuse, oftentimes, unfortunately due to privacy restrictions we can find the case fizzling out.”
Gill: Are social media companies particularly bad at cooperating on this issue?
Moran: I won’t name companies…Yes there are some companies which are useless, who totally ignore this issue who like to talk about privacy…really to these companies I would say please stop hiding behind these red herrings. Know that your responsibility is…you should have safety built in from the very start.
Gill: What is astonishing is how quickly new services are used by child sex abusers, like live streaming for example.
Moran: Any new service or any new software or platform coming online will be abused by people with a sexual interest in children. That is a reality. That’s not changed and I’ve been in this business a long time… People with a sexual interest in children see every new service coming on and they will see how it best serves their purposes. How it best serves their nefarious purposes and ….so what we don’t understand is how all these new companies coming online, this rush to market.
These companies are leaving themselves open. At some point in their product life cycle they will come up against this issue. These people will abuse your service. So what are you going to do about it? Is there any possibility we can analyse your service just before you go online to see what measures you can take, within your service, within your platform – so that they cannot abuse your system to abuse children around the world…We see it on a constant basis companies scanning for spam, for malware and making sure their platforms are not being used for spam, they’re not used for malware. But when it comes to child abuse they don’t scan. They see privacy as being an issue. They see first amendment as being an issue. We’re not talking about 18-year old girls in soft focus… The vast majority are pre-pubescent children, sometimes pre-speech.
Gill: From reading the experiences of officers working on these cases, the details can keep you awake at night. What is it that drives you to keep doing your job?
Moran: There’s one case in the Philippines that comes to mind, that was uncovered through the ICSE database. In this particular case the child sexual abuse was also accompanied by extreme violence and by permanent physical harm to these children. So if you can imagine the videos, listening to them, especially the soundtracks that go with those videos. The screaming of the children…It makes this particular job very hard to do at times, especially the feeling of helplessness…It’s that helplessness that drives the passion of the investigators, the fact that we can address that helplessness through serious investigation, by working together, by working up every clue to its very end with a view to identifying these children and stopping the abuse and to making people pay for it, that’s what drives us on.”
How to report child abuse
In the UK contact the NSPCC if you want to discuss your concerns and get advice.
NSPCC (for adults)
Telephone: 0808 800 5000
Find out about call charges
ChildLine (for children and young people)
Telephone: 0800 1111 (free)