Child pornography and exploitation cases have grown exponentially since the pandemic started, according to recently released statistics.
The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) released its 2020 statistical report on July 28, 2021. According to it, in 2020 there were 287 incidents regarding child pornography in Winnipeg, which is a growth rate of over 92 per cent from 2019.
"It showed a steady increase and it's consistent with what we've been seeing running the National Tip Line, especially during the pandemic," says Signy Arnason, the Associate Executive Director at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Part of the reason for the increase during the pandemic has to do with the amount of screen time children are given.
"When we put out our release, we specifically reference the areas that are impacting children. That would involve making or distribution of child pornography, possession and accessing child sexual abuse material, luring kids online, and the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. Right across the board, the police are seeing an increase," says Arnason.
While the statistics are alarming, they were not surprising to the CCCP.
"We've been seeing a rise in children being harmed online in the last two decades. But we haven't seen anything quite like where the numbers are at since the pandemic."
Arnason says that while children have spent a lot of time on the internet, with online learning over the past year, offenders have been spending more time online as well.
"They're highly motivated and we see them talking in dark web forums, trading tips and tricks on how to coerce and manipulate kids into doing something sexual online."
While parents have a part to play in engaging in conversations with their children, Arnason says there needs to be better protection from tech companies.
"There's no other environment where we would permit this type of access to kids without very significant rules and regulations. In the offline world, you never see what ends up happening online where adults and children can intermix with one another."
The CCCP is working to try and make sure tech companies are properly regulated. In the meantime, parents need to be having conversations with their kids about the dangers of being online, according to Arnason.
"You have to be prepared to have these difficult, honest conversations with kids so they come forward if something ever goes astray online. For the younger ones, it's much more rule-based. As they get older and more independent, you're reminding them not to send nude images online."
Arnason encourages parents to adapt the conversation as children grow.
"They're exposed to way more than you think. It's essential that you let them know that you're there for them regardless of what happens. We want kids to identify that there's something odd and coming forward and having adults assist them. They need to feel like they can come forward without fear of reprisal."
For anyone that knows of someone under 18 who is being sexually exploited online, people can call WPS or connect with the CCCP on their tip line.