Europe has become “the hub for the dissemination of images of abuse”. According to crime statistics, twice as many cases of child pornography were registered in Germany alone in 2021 compared to the previous year. The number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher.

The police in Germany registered a sharp increase in cases of child pornography in the past year. The possession, production and distribution of images of sexual violence against children and young people increased by 108.8 percent in 2021, doubling compared to the previous year, according to police crime statistics figures published in Berlin on Monday.

Investigators assume a high number of unreported cases

In the past year, more than 39,000 cases of child pornography were reported – in the previous year there were almost 18,800 cases. The cases of child sexual abuse also rose by 6.3 percent to more than 15,500 registered crimes. However, the investigators assume a much higher number of unreported cases.

The President of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Holger Münch, explained that the increased number of clues contributed “significantly to the clarification of the large number of unreported cases”. “The most serious acts of violence against children and young people, as the weakest members of society, must be proscribed, pursued and ended,” stressed Münch. In view of the increasing amounts of digital data, the BKA and the federal states are working “at full speed” to expand technical and human resources and improve procedures.

Europe as a “hub in the dissemination of abuse images”

According to the Federal Government’s Abuse Commissioner, Kerstin Claus, Europe has become “the hub for the dissemination of images of abuse”. Increased European cooperation and significantly more investment in the human and technological equipment of the investigative authorities are therefore necessary. “I hope that the planned EU center for preventing and combating sexual violence against children will soon become a reality,” said Claus.

The center could be used to centrally manage comparison databases, pre-sort unknown material – which requires particularly quick action – and thus relieve the burden on national law enforcement agencies. Those affected should also be able to ask in the future whether there is material from them on the Internet. “It can be very stressful to know that photos or videos from perpetrator networks are often disseminated for years or decades,” Claus explained. It is therefore important that they are specifically informed when material is found and deleted.

Legal hurdles in prosecuting perpetrators

Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD) called it “shocking that in 2021 an annual average of 49 children in Germany were victims of sexualized violence every day”. The investigative teams in the BKA would be significantly strengthened. This must also happen with the state authorities. According to Faeser, this will be an issue at the conference of interior ministers this week.

The German Children’s Aid called for measures to improve the protection of children. The increase in crime figures in the area of ​​sexualized violence against children is “alarming”. A shortcoming is still the legal hurdles in the prosecution of the perpetrators. Since the storage of IP addresses by telecommunications providers is not permitted, the investigators are often unable to determine their identity.

The number of underage suspects has increased tenfold

According to police statistics, the number of children and young people who spread, owned or produced depictions of abuse, particularly on social media, has increased more than tenfold in Germany since 2018. At that time there were 1,373 underage suspects, but their number rose to 14,528 last year.

Claus explained that most minors are not aware that possession or forwarding is a punishable offence. There is also a lack of awareness that serious and very serious acts of violence are being committed against other children and young people. Above all, parents and schools are called upon to find pedagogical answers.