Child sex abusers increasingly using social media to find victims: Forensic Institute

Children who fall victim to sexual abuse are increasingly coming into contact with the perpetrator through social media, according to research by the Netherlands’ forensic institute NFI. Last year, first contact with a victim was made through social media apps like Snapchat and Tiktok in over a quarter of cases, compared to 11 percent two years ago, NOS report.

“We see a clear upward trend in the influence of social media in the cases we investigated last year,” Wouter Karst, forensic doctor at the NFI, said to the broadcaster. “We think it is important to share this signal, to warn children and parents.”

Young people spend a lot of time online, especially now with the pandemic having people stuck at home. Child sex abusers groom their victim by chatting about their hobbies and interests, gaining information about the child and building a relationship of trust. At some point, they’ll turn the conversation towards sex, often asking the child to strip for them or send them nude photos. These are often then used to blackmail the victim into a physical meeting.

“Perpetrators know exactly how to approach it. They invest in contact with the adolescent. Ultimately it comes to a physical meeting with all the consequences that entails,” Iva Bicanic of the Center for Sexual Violence said to the broadcaster. She called the NFI figures worrying. “The impact of this type of abuse on the victim and his or her family should not be underestimated.”

The police also noticed the increasing role of social media and smartphones in sex crimes. “We see in almost all sex cases, both with adult and minor victims, that victims and suspects communicate with each other, before or after the incident,” police spokesperson Lidewijde van Lier said to NOS. “We undeniably underline the importance of being alert to children’s online behavior.”