Although data is limited, the memo says some believe online child sexual exploitation has reached “a level of epidemic proportions”.

OTTAWA — There are “serious gaps” — in resources, training and research — in efforts to protect young people from online sexual exploitation, warns a study prepared for the federal government. The study, completed in March for Public Safety Canada by an Ottawa consulting firm, was released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act. Cybertip.ca, a national tipline to report suspected online sexual abuse of children, has seen increases in reporting, including with respect to the severity of acts and images of very young children. Although data is limited, some believe online child sexual exploitation has reached “a level of epidemic proportions” that, if left largely unaddressed, will have devastating consequences for generations of children, the memo said.

Signy Arnason, director of Cybertip.ca, said in an interview that technology is evolving so quickly that it’s important to “take the opportunity to explore ways in which we can be enhancing things and better protecting kids.” The study found a “fairly good mix” of programs and services across Canada dedicated to fighting cyberexploitation, but resources “are being strained.”

The federal government should contribute money to a variety of promising, research-based efforts in different communities, said Merlyn Horton, chief executive of Safe Online Education Associates, one of the organizations consulted for the study. A program aimed at young Asian Canadians in British Columbia will necessarily be different than one for Inuit communities, she said in an interview. “They should be funding grassroots efforts so that people can develop education that meets their needs.” The study also found that efforts by non-governmental organizations and private-sector companies are vital and there is a need for research to better understand the motivations behind child exploitation, as well as more training for service providers, educators and counsellors.

By: Jim Bronskill / The Canadian Press; Photo: Jonathan Hayward


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