British Columbia has already broken records for the number of online child sexual abuse and exploitation cases reported in a single year, and we’re only halfway through August.
The RCMP’s Integrated Child Exploitation (ICE) Unit has received a staggering 10,850 reports province-wide, with nearly 12% of these concerning the North District area.
Constable Solana Pare, speaking on behalf of the RCMP, explained that online predators often employ deceptive tactics to gain the trust of their targets. “Oftentimes, predators targeting youth will pose as fellow young individuals to establish a sense of trust with their intended victims.”
She elaborated on their methods, saying, “BC ICE has observed that predators initiate contact with children on popular platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and various gaming consoles. They then steer the conversation towards more secure forms of communication.”
In essence, this creates a gateway for anyone to establish contact at any time, often putting vulnerable children at risk of exploitation. “There are predators seeking relationships with children, either for in-person encounters or to obtain intimate images for personal use, sale, or distribution online,” added Pare. “Occasionally, these predators may even extort money from these children after receiving the intimate images. This form of coercion also affects adults, who are threatened with the dissemination of compromising images to their friends and family.”
Children and teenagers who fall victim to these situations often bear a heavy burden of shame and guilt, leading them to suffer in silence. “Children are hesitant to disclose such incidents out of fear that they will be blamed for their involvement and not believed,” Pare explained.
Pare stressed the importance for parents to stay informed about new social media platforms or apps appearing on their children’s computers or mobile devices, using these discoveries as opportunities for dialogue. “Parents and guardians should monitor any new apps installed on electronic devices accessible to children. If you notice something new, use it as an opening for a conversation to understand why it’s there.”
The prevalence of online child sexual abuse and exploitation cases has surged in recent years, rising from slightly over 4,600 incidents in 2021 to a previous record of 9,600 cases last year. When asked why BC appears to be a hotspot for such crimes, Pare admitted there was no straightforward answer. “It’s a challenge due to the sheer size of our province, the multitude of police agencies serving various communities, and the diversity in community sizes and policing resources across British Columbia.”
Pare emphasized that while BC’s ICE Unit comprises 23 dedicated members from different regions of the province, additional resources may be necessary to manage the growing caseload effectively.