By mid-July Child Focus had opened more dossiers than in the whole of 2019. Sexual cases ranging from sexting to intimidation and grooming rose by 125% during the lockdown, 135 cases in all. Reports of sexual abuse of children tripled during the lockdown and totalled 679 in all.
Child Focus sees a clear link between the rise in abuse and the lockdown.
“The world of adults obsessed about the virus, the only thing that counted. We ignored the world, mental health and integrity of our children” the letter says.
Schools and hobby centres were closed despite warnings from experts of the dangers of sexual exploitation and child abuse. Politicians didn’t seem to consider the impact on children and vulnerable youngsters. The perpetrators of abuse were usually to be found in the victim’s immediate surroundings.
Children spent more time online and perpetrators were under less social scrutiny. Demand for new material meant children all over the world and also in Belgium were within the grasp of those with wrong intentions. Getting caught is not very likely. Often children can’t or are unwilling to tell. Only 20% of material with sexual abuse is ever examined.
Child Focus is demanding that fighting sexual exploitation of minors online and offline is made a top priority and is included in the federal government agreement. Media Savviness should be a subject in primary and secondary school. The police, prosecutors and social organisations should also be given greater means to combat the sexual exploitation of children. Police, prosecutors, teachers and care workers should be trained in order to allow them to identify victims quickly. Online platforms should be obliged to take proactive measures to combat sexual exploitation of minors.