New research points to the intersections between the COVID-19 pandemic and human trafficking. Children are at greater risk of sexual exploitation online due to more unsupervised internet access during lockdown periods and an increase in anxiety amongst children., Victims of trafficking are at heightened vulnerability for contracting COVID-19 due to existing health inequalities and barriers that victims face in accessing health care. Children in low-income communities are at heightened risk for exploitation due to the economic recession and subsequent poverty which is occurring as a result of COVID-19. Recession may also result in children working instead of going to school, increasing their risk of being trafficked.
During the COVID-19 lockdown period, there has been an increase in child sexual abuse activity on both the surface and dark webs. Between February 2020 and the end of March 2020, there has been an increase in over 200% of known child sex abuse forum posts on the clearnet (internet readily accessible by the public) linking to images and videos containing child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports an increase of 106% in global reports of suspected child sexual exploitation to its CyberTipline from March 2019 to March 2020. Additionally, since tourism has reduced due to travel restrictions, it is likely that tourism sex buyers will shift their attention online, and that demand for online CSAM will continue beyond the pandemic. Since the pandemic started, there has been an increase in child pornography, as well as an increase in the time that children and adolescents spend online (increasing their risk of contact with predators and traffickers) and the potential for increased adult demand for pornography with more isolated time at home. Sex work has been advertised as work for individuals who are unemployed due to COVID-19, and pimps and pornography websites have seen an increase in ‘models’ during the pandemic. The Australian E-Safety Commissioner has found that child abusers created and disseminated and online manual of how other abusers can groom and manipulate children online during COVID-19.
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