The CC-DRIVER LEA Working Group discussed in its fifth edition the crime of oSCEC, which affects children, as well as the issue of sexting. On Thursday 27th January 2022, 14 LEA participants from 6 countries shared their experiences, challenges and recommendations on the topics of discussion. In the introduction a EUROPOL report on oSCEC was discussed, which provides an objective, in-depth overview of the issue from a LEA perspective.
It is difficult to properly measure oSCEC, but it seems clear that as the time spent in the digital world is increasing, the more online crime, including oSCEC is going to grow. Underreporting is a common phenomenon and becomes a challenge according to participants (Spanish National Police estimated that only 3 out of 10 oSCEC cases are reported in Spain). On the other hand, legislation across Europe varies, and categorization, age range and/or terminology differ depending on the country. For instance, in German legislation grooming entails compelling children younger than 14 to conduct sexual activities involving the perpetrator or a third person or the generation, retrieval, procurement and possession of child pornography, whereas in Spain similar activities are punishable if they concern children up to 16 years old. For further information on cybersecurity legislation gaps and policies you can check CC-DRIVER’s publicly accessible D5.1 “Review and gap analysis of cybersecurity legislation and cybercriminality policies in eight countries”.
Distinctions among grooming and sexual extortion were also made in the discussion: grooming aims to obtain sexual benefit with the victim whereas sexual extortion aims to control the victim. It was noted that it is common for the offenders to commit several of these crimes at the same time with different persons, and that they normally get caught thanks to a single victim’s report, highlighting that police officers or investigators may forget that the case they are working with is not the only one the suspect may be committing as the Internet facilitates multiple operations. Concerning sexting, data from Spain was shared according to which 7,9% of 489 youngsters aged 14-18 had produced this kind of sexual content (Villacampa, 2017).
Perpetrators’ motivations for engaging in oSCEC were discussed. They can be grouped into two major motivations: sexual and financial. The former is the most prevalent. The desire for sexual gratification is the driving motivation for most child sexual abuse material consumers. When the motivation is financial gain, offenders are usually members of organised criminal enterprises operating in teams based in developing countries, and they primarily target female adults. The creation of differentiated strategies reflecting the differences in perpetrators’ motivation and profiles for the prevention and management of oSCEC-related behaviours is recommended. Estonian Police and Valencia Local Police shared information of perpetrators’ modus operandi which has been developed in the scope of CC-DRIVER’s sister project, RAYUELA. By analysing cybercriminal sentences and interviewing experts, victims and offenders it was determined that in most cases (approximately 70%) the offenders sent a friend request on a social network to initiate contact with the minor.
On the other hand, data from a gender perspective shows clear differences: the Bavarian Police Academy shared data from the German Federal Criminal Police Office which shows that over 90% of grooming perpetrators are male and approximately 80% of the victims are female. It also noted that the majority of grooming victims are minors but some perpetrators are minors too, and this number has been rising lately.
On a final note, given the dangers of not only grooming and oSCEC, but also sexting, it was recommended that awareness programmes to make children and young people sensitive to acceptable and unacceptable online behaviours, including the illegality of some online practises, must be carried out.