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German police: Probes of child sex abuse depictions soared in 2021

German police: Probes of child sex abuse depictions soared in 2021
Holger Muench, president of the German Federal Criminal Office, said police are "working at full speed" to tackle an alarming increase in the depictions of child sexual abuse on the Internet. File photo by Filip Singer/EPA-EFE

May 30 (UPI) -- Germany saw a more than 100% increase in police investigations of depictions of sexual violence against children and young people during 2021, authorities reported Monday.

The police actions, including investigations of the distribution, acquisition, possession and production of such depictions, came in response to a "strong increase" in the dissemination of depictions of abuse of minors, German law enforcement officials told reporters in Berlin.

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"Europe has become the hub for the dissemination of images of abuse," said Kerstin Claus, Germany's new independent commissioner for fighting child sexual abuse.

"We need increased European cooperation and significantly more investment in the human and technological equipment of the investigative authorities," she said. "Every successful investigation is important because it offers the chance to stop acute child abuse and prevent further acts."

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Figures supplied by Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, or BKA, showed the number of police cases involving depictions of violent child sexual abuse jumped by nearly 109% to more than 39,000 in 2021, meaning an average of 42 children and young people were victimized by sexual violence every day last year.

The number of actual child sexual abuse cases, meanwhile, also rose markedly last year, increasing by 6.3% to more than 15,500 cases.

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The annual figures only include offenses that became known to the police and were investigated -- officials warned that the overall number of unreported crimes "is many times greater" and indicate that up to two students in every German school class are affected by sexual violence.

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The alarmingly high numbers show that "the most serious acts of violence against children and young people, as the weakest members of society, must be proscribed, prosecuted and ended," BKA President Holger Muench said.

The rapidly increasing caseload means police must sift through "enormous amounts of digital data" and are "working at full speed" on the state and federal levels "to expand our technical and human resources," he said.

The European Commission has published figures "making it clear" that Europe has become the focal point for depictions of abuse on the Internet -- more than 60% of the worldwide material is stored on European-hosted servers, Claus said, expressing hopes that a planned EU center for preventing and combating sexual violence against children "will soon become a reality.

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"We need a common strategy and a coordinated approach for this, especially when it comes to criminal prosecution," she added.

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