It’s been a challenging year for everyone, and I’m proud to say that our dedicated employees found innovative ways to help missing and sexually exploited children 24/7 despite COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. When schools were shuttered and children were spending significantly more time online, we stepped up our prevention efforts, warning and educating families about dangers lurking on the internet.
The surge in screen times took a devastating toll on children this year, as reports of online enticement skyrocketed. During the height of the pandemic, our CyberTipline received 37,872 reports of suspected enticement compared to 19,174 last year – a 97.5% increase. Enticement occurs when a person communicates online with someone they believe to be a child with the intent of committing a sexual offense or abduction. We also saw child sex traffickers leverage new business models to profit from child sexual exploitation in which they navigated face mask and social distancing rules by making sexual abuse content available for purchase online.
As the country was in lockdown, we assisted our federal partner, The U.S. Marshals Service, in operations across the country that led to the recovery of nearly 400 missing children. We commend their success. The fortuitous timing of our launch of NCMEC CONNECT, our new virtual gateway to trainings, resources and best practices, allowed us to continue sharing online the knowledge we’ve gleaned over 37 years as the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for missing and sexually exploited children.
All of us at NCMEC, along with our Board of Directors, were deeply moved that, despite economic uncertainty, our donors and corporate partners continued their generous support of our mission to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation and prevent child victimization. Holding our premier fundraising events virtually this year, notably “HOPE Live,” gave survivors a much wider audience for their messages of hope and enabled us to showcase all that NCMEC can do to help.
We’re now facing one of the biggest challenges in our 37 years, and I can’t overstate this: We’re in danger of losing the global battle for child safety. Despite our best efforts for a compromise, European Union (EU) regulations went into effect at the end of this year that infringe on tech companies’ ability to use scanning technology to detect, report and remove online child sexual abuse material, which comprised the vast majority of the record 21.7 million CyberTipline reports we received this year.
We’ve warned legislators in the EU and in this country in stark terms that these regulations would literally blind the world to reports of online sexual abuse of children relating to the EU. Since its enactment, we’ve already seen some of our worst fears realized with reports relating to the EU plummeting. Law enforcement can’t rescue children if they can’t find them.
I’d like to personally thank our donors and corporate partners for their unwavering support during this trying time in America. For those who truly want to make a difference, please consider joining us in our mission. There’s nothing more fulfilling than helping children every single day.
John F. Clark, President and CEO
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children