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Results of international operation against online sexual exploitation 

Covid-19 unleashed a torrent of health, economic and security challenges upon the world, not least upon children. Online sexual exploitation has drastically increased during the pandemic and communities are in danger, since many children across the world are at risk from criminal predators who have adapted to the crisis and exploited the vulnerability of young people.

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The data revealed that there were 771 arrests of perpetrators of crimes related to sexual exploitation and 549 child sexual abuse victims were identified and rescued from harm. Image: hunthomas/123rf

The International Security Alliance (ISA), a collaborative transnational network, has announced the outcomes of its first joint operation for combating online sexual exploitation of children.

To combat this, countries have had to increase and maintain their levels of co-operation and information sharing. Law enforcement agencies have collaborated with private companies to acquire and share data on sexual offenders.

Experts have been called upon from the interior ministries of the involved member states, which include France, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Singapore, Spain, Bahrain and Senegal. There has also been involvement from the UK and Australia.

During the operation, working groups from each ministry focused on three main objectives:

Arresting the largest possible number of perpetrators of crimes involving sexual exploitation and referring them to the judicial authorities;
Identifying child sexual abuse victims and saving them from harm and exploitation; and
Blocking the largest possible number of sites and applications used to promote and exchange child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

The operation includes information and reports received from the initial period of January 1, 2020 until May 30 – the period when procedures for lockdowns and restrictions were at their highest levels. The operation was then extended to cover the period from June 1 to the end of September.

After receiving the relevant information and analysis of the data, ISA participants agreed to release the final results. It was revealed that there were 771 arrests of perpetrators of crimes related to sexual exploitation and 549 child sexual abuse victims were identified and rescued from harm. In addition, the results showed that 580 websites and applications that had been used to promote and share CSAM were successfully blocked.

A representative from the Italian Interior Ministry said of the initiative: “The joint operation that has just ended, represented an opportunity to investigate, once again and from a wider point of view, the repercussions that Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown have had on the criminal activities in question.

“A significant increase in the number of offences committed via the Net has been detected, especially relating to minors, with a subsequent surge in police operational activities throughout the Italian territory. The possibility for the national security system to share views, in such a delicate moment, with countries with which co-operation in the field of child pornography, has not yet reached the desired levels of collaboration and mutual growth, has certainly made it possible to lay the foundations of renewed international collaboration and increase, also at a technical and operational level, the possibility of reaching environments that have not been fully explored yet.”

Jane Dickinson, representing the Australian Federal Police commented: “The child exploitation online Covid-19 operation is another great law enforcement initiative being led by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Interior (MOI). The Australian Federal Police welcomes the collaboration and co-operation of the UAE MOI and acknowledges the UAE leadership in tackling the crime of child exploitation.”

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