Online child sexual abuse — A complicated crime that needs more resources
Caroline Engvall. Journalist and author who writes and campaigns on the issue of children in Swedish sex-trade and on child sexual abuse. Recent works by her are “Ärren vi bär” and “Judasvaggan”.
—Send me a pic 😉
—What type of pic? 🙂
—No, I don’t know you.
—Listen up, you little slut! I know people who like to beat up little girls. They won’t think twice about jumping on your head. Do you want that??
—Do you want to have a problem?
—I can easily arrange so that you are raped and your family is killed. Or we can come to an understanding.
—You are scaring me
—Send me a pic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
… Not answering won’t help you. You’ve got one minute.
… You are going to die.
This is a transcript from a conversation between a grown man and a child on a chat-log. The man had threatened several young girls in order to make them send naked pictures of themselves to him on the internet. He is now under investigation for crimes against 30 girls; out of which nine reported him to the police.
Currently Swedish prosecuting authorities are bringing more cases to court and several sentences are waiting to be handed down to perpetrators who have threatened children and asked them to send images and films where they pose naked or abuse themselves.
However, despite cases being brought forward there are still problems. The reporting rate for crimes committed against minors, including child sexual abuse on the internet, is very low. It is up to adults to recognise signals from abused children who are suffering is silence. This demands more knowledge as well as more resources.
In order to handle the investigations into these crimes efficiently, which entails linking together reports from across Sweden, the Police must show an interest, must be able to handle large amounts of data and must also be able to put together presentations about the material. They must also have knowledge of the negative consequences that these crimes can have on young people, such as self-harm and other means to alleviate anxiety. This is important where affected children have been subjected to severe threats and/or blackmail. They also risk developing a dependence on sharing their own sexually explicit images – sometimes with severe anxiety as a consequence. Knowledge about this type of behaviour only exists in some parts of Sweden today.
“Unfortunately we often seem to be playing Russian Roulette with these children. The children can’t decide where their case is being handled, and therefore they are subject to the knowledge and resources of the police where their case is being handled. It’s pure luck what sort of treatment they receive,” says Emelie Källfelt, who has prosecuted several cases concerning child sexual abuse and rape on the internet.
Another challenge is actually viewing the children as victims of crime, especially since the crime often plays out between children; i.e. both the perpetrator and the victim are young.
The police are trailing far behind when it comes to internet crime, and especially when it comes to crimes committed against children. “We’re ten years behind, if not more,” says a police officer in Gothenburg. Investigators in Sweden often have to reinvent the wheel again and again, because there are no official guidelines as to how to look into and untangle internet crime. Young people state that the dissemination of images can seem “worse than physical assault, because they can turn up anywhere.” The most serious consequence of this crime is suicide, one example being a 13-year old girl in Kumla who killed herself after she had been threatened and told to send nude pictures over the internet.
We need police officers and prosecutors who understand the mechanism behind the addiction of sharing own images, and the shame that can arise from the fact that someone has actively engaged in taking pictures of themselves.
We also need many more investigators with the right education about how to handle internet crime, especially cases that concern children. We need them to know more about this sort of crime in general, how to best go about finding the evidence and how then to handle it appropriately. Not until then, when we have better trained investigators with more knowledge, can we help and protect the children who seldom report the serious crimes to which they fall victim.
About the author
Caroline has written several books on the issue of children in Swedish sex-trade, including ”14 år till salu”, ”Virtuell våldtäkt” and ”Ärren vi bär”. She drives several projects that helps children exposed to online crime, including educational materials, help sites, podcasts and TV documentaries. She has also engaged parliament and government on this issue and has been engaged by Queen Silvia to talk about the subject, both private and for the Childhood Foundation. Caroline moderated # Skillnadpåriktigt 2017.