Europol say victims as young as seven are being targeted
The European Union police agency Europol has launched a new campaign against online sexual coercion and extortion of children.
It says the practice where sexual information or images are used to extort sexual material, sexual favours or money - often referred to as 'sextortion' or 'webcam blackmailing' - has skyrocketed in recent years.
Europol say victims as young as seven-years-old are being targeted online.
A new report has detailed two types of offenders: one who operates for sexual motivation and another who does it for financial gain.
The first profile operates alone, shares content they receive and targets female victims.
Europol say the second type of offender could be a member of an organised crime gang, and tends to target male victims in countries linked by language.
It also found that 78% of reports made involved female children and 15% were male, with an average age of 15.
It says females were blackmailed significantly more often for sexually explicit content (84%) compared to males (53%).
While male children were blackmailed significantly more often for money or goods (32%) compared to females (2%).
Eurpol say this is "a relatively new trend in the field of online child sexual abuse".
Another such trend is the perpetrator’s demand for the child to include other children, such as siblings or peers, in the material.
The agency wants to raise awareness of the issue and get people affected to report it - reminding them that such exploitation is a crime.
Steven Wilson, head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, said: "Children are increasingly using the online environment to communicate and form relationships and this should be considered as a natural part of their development.
"However it is our collective responsibility to educate them on the threats they may experience and also protect them to make the online environment as safe as possible.
"Where something untoward happens online we should provide clear and effective reporting and support mechanisms so they understand where to turn to for assistance."
Rob Wainwright, Europol's executive director, added: "Protecting our children is one of the highest priorities for law enforcement in Europe and across the world.
"At Europol, we are committed to tackle any threat to our children and bring anyone who harms them to justice."
Europol’s message to those who are targeted is 'don't pay and don’t feel embarrassed to report it to the police'.
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