COVID-19 and Missing & Exploited Children
Data from Jan. 1, 2020 - Dec. 31,2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected every aspect of life across the globe. Here at NCMEC, we know families of missing and exploited children still need our help and our work has not stopped. While our understanding of the impact of COVID-19 and social distancing on child safety will continue to develop, here are our findings so far.
“COVID-19 has presented challenges and opportunities in the fight against child sexual exploitation. In the first quarter of 2020, NCMEC became aware of predators openly discussing the pandemic as an opportunity to entice unsupervised children into producing sexually explicit material. At the same time, we experienced an explosion in reporting to our CyberTipline from both the public and electronic service providers, all while transitioning to a telework environment. I couldn’t be more proud of the staff at NCMEC for demonstrating their ability to adapt and respond during this time while always maintaining their commitment to the children we serve. Our teams used the unique challenge that COVID-19 presented and focused on the opportunity to creatively improve workflows, both operational and technical, identify new methods to assist in removing online child sexual abuse material and support the rescue of children from sexually abusive situations.”
— John Shehan, vice president of NCMEC’s Exploited Children Division.
NCMEC has experienced a 97.5% increase in online enticement reports between January - December 2020 versus the same time period in 2019.
NCMEC has experienced a 28% increase in CyberTipline reports between January - December 2020 versus the same time period in 2019.
● NCMEC is aware of one case where a video depicting the sexual abuse of a young child was widely shared because people were outraged and trying to help find the victim. We want to remind everyone that sharing these kinds of videos is illegal and revictimizes the child. If you ever come across child sexual abuse material (CSAM) do not repost it, and instead report it to our CyberTipline.
● With both kids and adults spending more time online due to school closures and social distancing measures, NCMEC is aware of instances where child predators are using the darknet to discuss this opportunity to entice children to produce sexually explicit material.
● Some child traffickers adjusted to the reluctance of buyers to meet in-person to engage in commercial sex. Some traffickers are now offering options for subscription-based services in which buyers pay to access online images and videos of the child.
“We’ve been adapting to the challenge of searching for missing children during the COVID-19 era. From making sure our team is connected to all our resources while teleworking, to having the call center taking reports remotely, we have not slowed down our efforts to find missing kids. We have assisted with cases where children have run away out of frustration with quarantine restrictions and cases where parents with visitation rights have not returned their children due to COVID-19 concerns. The reasons for disappearing may look different, but our commitment to bringing children home safe is the same. Even a national pandemic is not going to stop our organization from assisting these kids. We have the technology, the commitment and a dedicated staff. When you put all of these things together, we’re unstoppable.”
— John E. Bischoff, vice president of NCMEC’s Missing Children Division.
NCMEC has experienced a 8.3% increase in calls into our hotline between January - December 2020 versus the same time period in 2019.
● While NCMEC is not necessarily seeing a direct correlation between COVID-19 and an uptick in missing child cases, we have gotten reports where COVID-19 and its effects have played a significant role in 374 missing child cases.
● NCMEC is aware of reports in which some children have run away from home in frustration with the “stay-at-home” restrictions; cases where children run from group homes out of concern for catching COVID-19; and cases of parents with visitation rights not returning their children due to concern of potential exposure to COVID-19.
NCMEC will continue to closely monitor the impact of COVID-19 on missing and exploited children so that we can adapt to the current challenges as we continue to fulfil our mission to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation and prevent child victimization.
If you have any information on a child being exploited, please report it to NCMEC’s CyberTipline.
If you have any information on a missing child, please call the NCMEC hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST, that’s 1-800-843-5678.
To learn more about how you can keep children in your community safe, visit https://www.missingkids.org/education for tips and resources.