Reports alleging online child sexual exploitation have increased by over 35 percent from 2020 to 2021, according to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The private non-profit, established by the U.S. Congress in 1984 and funded in part by the Department of Justice, said that its CyberTipline received 29.3 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation—an increase of 35.9 percent from 2020, and also the most ever the NCMEC has received in a single year.
Over 99 percent of the reports were those that alleged suspected child sexual abuse material (CSAM), legally referred to as child pornography. In 2020, the organization received 21,669,264 reports of suspected child pornography (possession, manufacture, and distribution), while in 2021, it received 29,309,106 reports—an increase of 35.3 percent.
“These reports concern the sexual exploitation of children around the globe. We share this data to continue building awareness of the insidious nature of child sexual exploitation occurring online,” Michelle DeLaune, NCMEC’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.
The NCMEC said that its analysis of the reports “has resulted in alerts to law enforcement regarding 4,260 new child victims depicted in child sexual abuse imagery.”
Besides CSAM, the group received 1,624 reports alleging child sex tourism, 16,032 reports alleging child sex trafficking, 12,458 reports alleging child sexual molestation, 44,155 reports alleging online enticement of children for sexual acts, and 5,177 reports alleging unsolicited obscene material sent to a child.
Each category saw an increase over 2021, including a 16. 5 percent increase in online enticement.
“This type of exploitation occurs when a child is groomed to take sexually explicit images, meet face-to-face with someone for sexual purposes or engage in a sexual conversation online,” the group said in a release.
The NCMEC also noted that videos of child sexual abuse surpassed still images.
“In 2021, CyberTipline reports provided by ESPs included 39.9 million images, of which 16.9 million were unique, and 44.8 million videos, of which 5.1 million were unique,” the group noted, adding, “With advances in technology that allow anyone to record on their own devices, NCMEC expects that reports of videos will continue to rise.”
The NCMEC said the higher numbers of reports from 2021 can be due to multiple reasons, including growing numbers of users on various online platforms, or the Electronic Service Providers’ (ESPs) increasing effectiveness in identifying and removing the abusive material.
According to the NCMEC, 29.1 million of the reports it received of out the 29.3 million total were from ESPs that reported when they became aware of child sexual abuse material on their systems.
“NCMEC applauds ESPs that make identifying and reporting this content a priority and encourages all companies to increase their reporting to NCMEC,” the group said. “These reports are critical to helping remove children from harmful situations and to stopping further victimization.”
If you’re a victim of child sexual exploitation on the internet or are aware of CSAM, sex trafficking, or other crimes against children online, you can make a report at CyberTipline.org or call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).