Dark ad campaign hopes to help catch online child predators
'We need to heavily remind the public...it's actually happening in homes,' Cybertip director says
The images are dark and ominous; children curled up on a bed or a couch as a man towers over them, camera in hand. The only thing protecting the child is an arrow.
The ads are part of a national awareness campaign launched Monday by the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection. It runs Canada's national online tool to report child abuse, Cybertip.ca.
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"We want people to be reporting concerning behaviour to us, so that we don't end up with so many images on the internet of children being exploited," said Signy Arnason, the tipline's director.
Cybertip.ca was launched in September of 2002 and in 2004 officially became part of the federal government's strategy to protect children from abuse. It works with police forces across the country.
At first it would get a few hundred tips a month. Over the years, that number has grown exponentially; the agency now gets 3,300 reports a month.
Of those, about 40 per cent are forwarded to police or a child welfare agency.
Abuse often happens at home
Some of those tips go to acting Det.-Sgt. Paul Krawczyk with the Child Exploitation Section of Toronto police.
When he started in 2002, Krawczyk said he would have days to follow up on a tip. That's no longer the case.
"We are a team of 19 in Toronto alone, and we can't keep up — it is way too busy," he said. "We get multiple reports every single day."
This past January, Cybertip.ca analyzed about 45,000 unique images and videos. It found about 80 per cent contained images of children under the age of 12.
It also found about 70 per cent of the images appear to have been taken inside a home. Arnason said that signals most of the abuse is being committed by family members or close family friends.
"We need to heavily remind the public that this isn't a problem that is abroad. It is not distant to us, it's actually happening in homes and communities."
Krawczyk said when officers seize a computer, they often will find millions of pictures of exploited children.
The large number of images online are fuelled by apps that allow users to be anonymous and by wide ownership of smartphones and tablets so that cameras are everywhere. A decade ago, most people didn't walk around with a camera in their pocket, he said.
"There are a millions of different ways of trading things online now than there were even 10 years ago," he said.
It's also easier to be anonymous online and remain hidden.
"It is becoming more problematic because it is so simple to connect with other people that can reinforce this deviant behaviour and tell you it is all normal," Arnason added.
All the more reason, she says, for Canadians to report any suspected cases of abuse if they are concerned.