Manitoba

Staggering number of child pornography crimes reported during pandemic, Winnipeg police statistics show

Reports of child pornography crimes in Winnipeg skyrocketed during the pandemic, new data released by police suggests.

Statistics 'sadly not surprising,' because of pandemic, Canadian Centre for Child Protection says

Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth believes the spike in child pornography charges stems from the fact that more people are at home in close quarters because of the pandemic, and are more aware of others' actions. (Shutterstock)

Reports of child pornography crimes in Winnipeg skyrocketed during the pandemic, new data released by police suggests.

In 2020, there were 287 incidents regarding child pornography in Winnipeg, according to the Winnipeg Police Service Statistical Report from that year.

That's a 92.6 per cent increase from 2019, and nearly 200 per cent more than the five-year average.

"I think it's just we're being made aware of a lot more of these incidents. That's generally how child porn comes to comes to our attention — people report other people — so I think you're seeing a little bit of that," police chief Danny Smyth told CBC News.

"A lot of people are living in close households aware of other people's activities. So we certainly are aware of that spike."

Smyth wasn't able to break down how many of those incidents are related to making, distributing or consuming child sexual abuse materials.

"It's certainly distressing ... but sadly not surprising," said Signy Arnason, the associate executive director for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, based in Winnipeg.

"Kids are at home, most of the learning is online, the connectivity is happening at substantially increased rates. And then that leaves them more vulnerable to being exploited."

In addition, she says child sexual abuse material is often produced by family members and then distributed.

"It's really happening on all sides for kids," Arnason says.

The disturbing trend seems to be a cross-Canada problem, according to Statistics Canada's police-reported crime data, which was also released on Tuesday.

In 2020, there was a 27 per cent increase in incidents of making or distributing child sexual abuse materials compared to 2019. This is an 89 per cent increase in incidents compared to the previous five-year average.

Incidents of child luring via a computer have increased by 15 per cent compared to 2019. That's a 37 per cent jump compared to the previous five-year average.

Parents and caregivers have an important role to play, Arnason says.

"They have to know the apps kids are using, who they're connecting with, having regular discussions. And children need to feel like they can come to their parents if something has gone astray without fear of reprisal," she said. "So those things are all really important, especially during this time."

Wellness checks increased during pandemic

Statistics also suggest that of all the police calls for service, police were dispatched for more well-being checks than any other emergency event in 2020.

The number of times police were dispatched to check on a person's well-being increased by 12 per cent from 2019, the report says.

"We've had a community that's been dealing with an awful lot of isolation in lockdown, a lot of concerns for friends and loved ones, and no real way of being able to check on people," said Smyth.

"We're probably seeing addictions and mental health contributing to that."

Although violent crime is down, Smyth says police are attending to a concerning number of armed assaults. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Statistically, Winnipeg saw a modest decrease in violent crimes in 2020, in part due to the decrease in the number of liquor store robberies.

In April of 2020, controlled entrances were installed in every Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries liquor mart in the province.

However, the crime severity index and the overall volume of violent crime remains high, Smyth says.

"I think the decrease is probably driven by the fact that there were fewer robberies, but our homicide numbers are very high again this past year," he said.

Overall violent crime statistics are down, and Smyth says that's in large part to a reduction in liquor store thefts. In 2019, there was one theft every 50 minutes, on average. In April of 2020, controlled entrances were installed in every liquor mart. (Terry Stapleton/CBC)

Smyth believes there could have been even more homicides last year if it weren't for diligent paramedics and police officers trained in trauma care who are called to two or three stabbings a day.

"We're applying tourniquets and suction bandages just to help control bleeding in a lot of these instances. So that is a daily occurrence for us now and it's cause for concern," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Find her on Twitter at @r_bergen or email her at rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

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