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Reports of online sexual exploitation of Canadian children have soared during the COVID pandemic as abusers take advantage of the fact that kids are spending more time online. Stephen Sauer, director of Cybertip. Arnold Guerin of the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Crime Centre, which coordinates investigations into child sexual exploitation online and child pornography, said his unit also has seen an increase in reports of sexual exploitation of children.

At the outset of the pandemic, he said, his unit saw offenders on livestreaming sites, social media and on the dark web looking for children to chat with online, or to meet in person so that they could sexually assault them. When online companies see child abuse or child pornography on their platforms, they refer the information to police in the country where the abuser lives, Guerin said. While Guerin's unit has seen a steady increase in child sexual exploitation online over time, he said the latest increase appears to be the result of the pandemic.

More people are online and children are spending an inordinate amount of time in front of screens, whether those are computers or mobile devices. In Alberta, 18 men from across the province are facing a total of 65 charges related to online child exploitation.

Dwayne Lakusta said in a media statement. A report last month by Europol — the EU's central law enforcement agency — also found an increase in the sharing of child sexual abuse material online during the pandemic. According to the U. S National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, "there has been a per cent increase in such activity across the globe," the report added.

Europol found messages in one dark web forum for "cappers" — people who capture livestream videos of children being forced or coerced into producing videos of a sexual nature. The of such messages and thre tripled from between December and February to 1, between March and May.

The report also predicts the surge of activity during the pandemic will fuel an increase in sexual abuse of children and child pornography available online. While such activity has increased during the pandemic, Guerin said his unit hasn't seen a change in the types of crimes it sees happening online. We have seen images as young as infants and newborns being sexually assaulted all the way up to the age of 17," he said.

They are often of sexual assault or in some cases violent in nature. Guerin said the abusers and those seeking to exploit children sexually can be found wherever children hang out online. It's Facebook. It's Microsoft. It's Google, Snapchat — any platform where you're going to find children, you're going to find this kind of material being reported. Arnold Guerin offers advice to parents. Sauer said he is also seeing reports of abusers hanging out on sites like Omegle and Chatroulette, which allow users to chat with strangers.

Sauer said kids should make sure they know who they're really dealing with online. Anything that appears to make you feel uncomfortable. Someone in your life that you know that will help you through the situation. That's the way to go about it. Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth. Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.

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Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time. the conversation Create . Already have an ? Politics Child sex exploitation is on the rise in Canada during the pandemic Reports of online sexual exploitation of Canadian children and child pornography have soared during the COVID pandemic as abusers take advantage of the fact that kids are spending more time online. Social Sharing. Where predators gather online "In March, when everything started, we weren't immediately seeing an increase of child sexual exploitation reports being made from big companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook," Guerin said.

Arnold Guerin's advice to parents and kids for avoiding online exploitation 12 months ago Elizabeth Thompson Senior Reporter.

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