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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION
Fact Sheet 2012
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images: Fotolia



CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
Introduction
‘Child sexual exploitation’ refers to the sexual abuse 
of a human being below the age of 18. Among other 
things, it includes the production of child abuse images 
and their online dissemination as particularly serious 
forms of crime committed against children.
The distribution of images depicting the sexual exploi-
tation of children is mainly facilitated by improper use 
of the Internet. Furthermore, the relative anonymity 
offered by this means of communication makes it dif-
ficult to successfully locate and identify the offenders 
and to save child victims from further exploitation.
It must be emphasised that the discovery of illegal ma-
terial is only the beginning of an investigation into the 
actual sexual exploitation of a child (e.g. rape, sexual 
assault). 
There is a clear distinction between specific legislation 
on the offences related to the production, distribution/
sale and possession of child sexual exploitation mate-
rial and specific legislation on sexual offences commit-
ted against children.
While there is no doubt that the sexual abuse and ex-
ploitation of children is a serious problem, there is a 
lack of accurate and reliable statistics on the nature of 
the phenomenon and the numbers of children involved, 
mainly due to differences in national definitions of dif-
ferent child sexual abuse and exploitation offences.
On 15 November 2011 the Council of the European Un-
ion  adopted  the  Directive  2011/92/EU  (presented  by 
the European Commission in 2010), aimed at combat-
ing sexual abuse and exploitation of children as well as 
child pornography, with the aim of replacing the Frame-
work Decision 2004/68/JHA. The new Directive follows 
the Lanzarote (Spain), October 20071  Council of Europe 
Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual 
Exploitation and Sexual Abuse
” and covers actions on 
the following different aspects:
1Council of Europe (CoE) – European Treaty Series – No 201: Of the 47 CoE Member States, 3 have not yet signed it and only 19 countries have ratified it. The 
Convention has entered into force (situation on 23/07/2012 – source: Council of Europe – Treaty Office http://conventions.coe.int).
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
•  Criminal law: criminalisation of serious forms of child sexual abuse and exploitation currently not 
covered by EU legislation, with Articles 3 and 4 aiming at punishing the intentional conduct of re-
cruiting or coercing a child into prostitution or into pornographic performances or profiting from 
or otherwise exploiting a child for such purposes, and establishing provisions that punish all the 
offences related to child pornography which already fall under the Europol mandate as listed in the 
Council Decision establishing the Europol Police Office, applicable from 1 January 2010.
•  Developments in the IT environment: new forms of sexual abuse and exploitation facilitated by the 
use of the Internet would be criminalised (e.g. grooming children or viewing child abusive material 
(CAM) without downloading the files).
•  Criminal investigation and initiation of proceedings: a number of provisions would be introduced 
to assist with investigating offences and the bringing about of charges, in the absence of reporting 
by the child victim.
•  Offences committed abroad: rules on jurisdiction would be amended to ensure that child sexual 
abusers or exploiters from the EU face prosecution, including if they commit their crimes in a non-
EU Member State.
•   Protection of victims: new provisions would ensure that abused children have easy access to legal 
remedies and do not suffer as a result of participating in criminal proceedings.
•  Prevention of offences: special programmes should be accessible for offenders to prevent them 
from committing new offences. National mechanisms to block access to websites with child por-
nography, which are most often located outside the EU, should be put in place under the supervi-
sion of judicial services or the police.
The Directive will have to be transposed into national law within two years from the Council adoption. 
Child sexual exploitation & the Internet
The Internet as a mass medium is extensively used in con-
nection with sexual material; it is used for the sale and pur-
chase of adult pornographic material and sexual devices, 
for advertising contacts for explicit sexual purposes, and 
to distribute child sexual exploitation content, providing a 
platform for online grooming of children with the abusive 
material reaching the Internet, constituting a permanent 
re-victimisation of the depicted child.
The first international common commitment to tackle the 
distribution of child sexual exploitation material on the In-
ternet was expressed at the International Conference on 
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
“Combating Child Pornography on the Internet”, held in Vienna in 1999, where it was stated that, “Child 
Pornography on the Internet is a growing problem, and as more of the world comes online, it will continue to 
grow in the future since it does not know or respect borders
”.
Over the last 10 years, several European and worldwide operations have resulted in the identification of 
thousands of suspects in relation to sexual offences committed against children. The numbers of offend-
ers identified grows every year, confirming the development of this criminal phenomenon and improved 
response of law enforcement agencies. A great leap forward is now needed in order to fight the producers 
and the people who profit from this serious crime.
Fighting child sexual exploitation, including the proliferation of child sexual exploitation material on the 
Internet, is a constant challenge for law enforcement, due to technological innovations which provide 
easier and faster access to the material to the offenders, while strengthening their ability to remain anon-
ymous. It is argued that this development has created a wider market and demand for such illegal mate-
rial which has inevitably led to an increase in child sexual exploitation.
It is clear, though, that an effective partnership approach is required between law enforcement agen-
cies, judicial authorities, the ICT industry, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the banking sector and non-
governmental organisations. The contribution provided by officially recognised hotlines, which receive 
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
Internet-related child sexual exploitation information, should also be acknowledged.
In most Member States, the need to establish close cooperation between law enforcement and ISPs has 
been identified, both for crime prevention and investigation. ISPs can assist by providing data that can 
be used in the identification and prosecution of offenders and also by adopting procedures and codes 
of conduct that can limit the exploitation of the Internet by child sex offenders. Several Member States 
have built up specialised units for combating child sexual exploitation on the Internet, as dealing with this 
topic requires specialised knowledge and expertise.
Trends
The following trends, consolidating 2011 ones, are in evidence at 
this present time:
•  After the observed decrease2 , since 2010 the involvement of 
worldwide criminal networks in offering pay-per-view websites 
is slightly on the rise. Commercial distribution of child abuse 
material on the Internet is currently executed through the use 
of several, in some cases less conventional, payment systems 
such as money remitters and electronic money;
•  Criminals are now focusing on hidden channels where pri-
vate access is granted only to ’selected’ users. The selection is 
performed by the channel’s owner or managers based on the 
amount, nature and quality of images that can be shared, and 
even based on respect and trust;
•  Child  sex  offenders  and  their  networks  make  more  and  more 
use of sophisticated software in order to try to protect their 
anonymity, to make use of online storage and hosting services, 
hi-jack servers and to use advanced encryption techniques to 
counteract digital forensic examination by police;
•  Child  sex  offenders  are  travelling  to  specific  countries  where 
children are offered by their families or others acting as facili-
tators in order to be sexually exploited and to produce illegal 
material that is distributed through the Internet;
•  Illegal material is increasingly self-produced by teenagers or 
children who underestimate the risks of distributing their imag-
es or movie files mainly through social media or video-enabled 
instant messaging;
•  In some other cases, children are persuaded or coerced by 
child sex predators into producing the material through online 
grooming;
•  Online grooming and the solicitation of sexual messages 
through mobile phones and multimedia devices (‘sexting’) are 
dangerous realities which need constant attention from a re-
sponsible society.
2 European Financial Coalition (EFC) Strategic Assessment 2010.
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
Core issues
In order to tackle these specific forms of crime in the most 
effective way, serious consideration should be given to:
•  Enhancing awareness and providing appropriate tools, 
equipment and human resources to carry out investiga-
tions;
•  Reducing any duplication of efforts in activities by con-
sulting international police cooperation agencies and 
spreading knowledge and proposals;
•  Developing closer operational coordination of ongo-
ing investigations at national, European and worldwide 
levels;
•  Enhancing close cooperation with Internet Service Pro-
viders and the Internet private sector;
•   Enhancing close cooperation with academia and non-
governmental organisations.
Europol core activities
Europol, in close cooperation with the Member States, 
aims to:
•  Identify  perpetrators  and  establish  cross-links  within 
the participating Member States;
•  Identify cross-border modus operandi and shed light 
on the methods of communication of criminal net-
works, with a view to dismantling those networks;
•  Identify the victims, with a view to stopping poten-
tially ongoing exploitation and to make it possible to 
initiate care measures by the competent authorities;
•  Cooperate on an operational level via the Europol Liai-
son Officers’ (ELO) network, as well as providing stra-
tegic and operational analytical support;
•  Conduct expert meetings (both operational and strate-
gic) with the aim of exchanging information on ongo-
ing investigations and enhancing mutual cooperation 
between law enforcement bodies and other compe-
tent authorities, by updating the Member States’ ex-
perts about relevant cases, modus operandi, etc;
•  Participate and contribute to several initiatives, e.g. 
awareness meetings, projects on the implementation 
of new legislative instruments and training sessions 
organised by international organisations;
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
• Support international projects:
CIRCAMP - COSPOL Internet Related Child Abuse Material Project - was launched in 2004 by the Euro-
pean Police Chiefs Task Force under the Comprehensive Operational Strategic Planning for the Police 
(COSPOL) mandate, to fight the use of the Internet for the distribution of child abusive material. A new 
action plan delivered by Belgium as country leader of CIRCAMP has proposed the execution of several 
operations by the participating countries through the coordination of Europol. As a result, in December 
2011 the first CIRCAMP operation, called “Icarus”, was concluded with the identification of 286 suspects 
and 113 arrests. The case focused on the exchange, through an open file-sharing system, of child abusive 
movie files depicting the rape of infants and toddlers. 
Europol has supported CIRCAMP since its launch in 2004.
The European Financial Coalition (EFC) aims to disrupt the commercial gain behind child sexual abuse 
images. The major financial, Internet and technology corporations have joined forces with international 
police agencies, the European Commission and specialist child protection non-governmental organisa-
tions (NGOs) to track, disrupt and confiscate commercial gains made by those who profit from the dis-
tribution of indecent images.
Europol fully supported the EFC phase one from its launch in March 2009, participating in and providing 
expertise to the Steering Group, the Law Enforcement Cooperation Working Group and the Legal Work-
ing Group.
Europol is now leading phase two of the project. The ISEC3 funds recently granted by the European Com-
mission will be administered by Missing Children Europe (MCE) and will establish a fully functioning EFC 
secretariat in Brussels, Belgium. The EFC will be officially launched on 1 October 2012 and it will cover a 
period of three years until 2015. 
Europol and MCE will then deliver a wider response supported by Eurojust, the Dutch National Police 
(KLPD), VISA Europe, MasterCard, Microsoft, Google, PayPal and INHOPE, with the participation of the 
3
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 ISEC: Programme on Prevention of and Fight against Crime.



CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (IC-
MEC) in an advisory role. 
Europol joined the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) in April 
2011. The VGT is not a legal entity, but rather a “strategic 
alliance” between law enforcement agencies to combat the 
sexual exploitation of children on the Internet.
It is currently formed by law enforcement authorities (LEAs) 
from Australia, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, United Arab 
Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom (UK), United States (US), 
Europol and Interpol. Recently ICMEC and an NGO called 
“The Code of Conduct” have also joined the VGT. Members 
of the VGT share information and intelligence to run joint 
international  law  enforcement  operations.  By  joining  the 
VGT, Europol has made a commitment to cooperate with 
other VGT countries across international borders to tackle 
online child sexual exploitation crimes on a global scale.
The bi-annual plenary conference of the VGT will take place 
in Abu Dhabi (UAE) from 11 to 13 December 2012. 
The core activity of Europol is to support the Member 
States in their actions to prevent and combat serious and 
organised  crime,  with  the  Analysis  Work  File  (AWF)  be-
ing one of the means of providing support to the Member 
States. AWF Twins was opened in 2001 to support the par-
ticipating Member States in preventing and combating the 
activities of criminal networks involved in the production, 
sale or distribution of child sexual abuse material, and the 
associated forms of crime within Europol’s mandate. This 
activity, due to its great success, will continue in 2012 and 
onwards under the new definition of Europol’s operational 
projects which replaced the AWFs with “Focal Points” (FP).
The FP Twins is currently supporting several investigations 
but, due to their ongoing status, no details can be disclosed. 
Previously,  Europol  supported  one  of  the  major  cases  on 
child sexual molestation. In fact on 16 March 2011 a press 
conference on Operation ´Rescue´ was held in The Hague. 
This case focused on an online forum of paedophiles with 
a specific preference for male children or young boys. With 
the leading support of Europol, 705 suspects have been 
identified  across  the  world,  250  arrests  made  and  252 
children safeguarded
. The number of victims safeguarded 
is the highest ever achieved in this type of investigation.
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
These spectacular operational results were the work of effective police cooperation across many coun-
tries. Instrumental to the success was the unique role Europol played in identifying the members of the 
child sex abuse network and facilitating operational action by police authorities in multiple jurisdictions. 
In particular, it was the work of Europol analysts in cracking the security features of a key computer server 
at the centre of the network which uncovered the identity and activity of the suspected child sex offend-
ers. Europol subsequently issued intelligence reports to police authorities in more than 30 countries in 
Europe and further afield, which led to the arrests of suspects and the safeguarding of children. Countries 
involved were: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zea-
land, Poland, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States. 
The website attempted to operate as a ‘discussion–only’ forum where people could share their sexual 
interest in young boys without committing any specific offences, thus operating ‘below the radar’ of po-
lice attention. Having made contact on the site, some members would move to more private channels, 
such as email, to exchange and share illegal images and films of children being abused. In January 2010, 
a copy of the seized site’s server was received by Europol, and the Australian and UK police. Working 
with Zaanstreek–Waterland Police in the Netherlands, Europol rebuilt the forum offline and forensically 
interrogated the server to produce intelligence analysis which was disseminated globally to law enforce-
ment authorities. So far, Europol has distributed more than 4200 operational intelligence reports to 25 EU 
Member States and 8 other countries. Having identified at least 705 suspected offenders, international 
law enforcement authorities continue to work with forces that are actively pursuing the intelligence aris-
ing from Operation Rescue.
Cooperation with non-EU Member States such as the United States has also produced significant achieve-
ments. As an example, Operation Atlantic, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and coordi-
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
nated by Europol, was concluded on 29 February 2012 and after more than a year of investigations in EU 
Member States, 37 child sex offenders were identified. Among these offenders, 17 were arrested for child 
sexual molestation and production of illegal content. Moreover, 8 victims have been identified. 
The case was launched after an operational meeting was held in The Hague between the FBI and Europol 
officers in November 2010. Intelligence gathered by the FBI during a long and complex investigation was 
distributed by Europol to France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK in December 2010.
Analysis carried out by Europol revealed further links of several suspects to previous operations against 
child sex offenders. In this respect Europol produced five reports relating to nine targets. In particular, 
two targets were already members of the ‘Boylover’ network, tackled by the previous Europol-coordi-
nated Operation Rescue. The remaining seven targets were members of other paedophile networks, still 
under investigation. The above investigative and reporting activities facilitated the identification process 
in the EU countries which led to the detection of a network of offenders that were producing and distrib-
uting images depicting the severe abuse of children, in some cases toddlers and infants. The investigative 
activity also led to the identification of child sex molesters and several victims who had been sexually 
abused by these criminals.
In order to strengthen cooperation and guarantee the effectiveness of this case, the FBI seconded an in-
vestigator to the Europol Child Sexual Exploitation Team for two months in the summer of 2011.    
Operation Atlantic has been the first joint operation conducted by the FBI and Europol in the crime field 
of child sexual exploitation. 
To date, the work of AWF/FP Twins has led to the identification of around 3000 suspects belonging to dif-
ferent criminal networks involved in offences related to the distribution of child sexual exploitation ma-
terial on the Internet, and support has been given to 25 international operations, as at the end of 2011.
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
Travelling Sex Offenders - Project “HAVEN”
In addition to the work conducted by the Analysis Work File “Twins” (AWF01-004), other aspects con-
nected to the sexual exploitation of children are also being addressed. With Project HAVEN - “Halting 
Europeans  Abusing  Victims in Every  Nation” - that was launched in November 2010, Europol aims to 
detect and disrupt travelling sex offenders originating from the EU that exploit children both inside and 
outside Europe.
In January 2012, the second Project HAVEN joint action day was organised. This European operation was 
planned and executed by Europol in joint cooperation with national police, customs and border authori-
ties at the main airports in Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Swe-
den and the UK. Romania, Spain and Switzerland participated with enhanced cooperation for informa-
tion exchange on passengers travelling through their countries’ airports.
The  authorities  targeted  persons  primarily  arriving  from  destinations  known  for  ‘child  sex  tourism’  - 
countries and cities to which European paedophiles travel to engage in child sexual exploitation. The au-
thorities checked and profiled returning passengers and conducted interviews, while several EU Member 
States assisted with information exchange, and prepared and carried out checks on passengers in transit 
from selected flights to other EU countries.
The ultimate objective of Project HAVEN is to establish a permanent and proactive notification system 
on travelling European sex offenders.
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
Training 
The annual Europol training course, ”Combating the Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Internet”, 
for law enforcement officers and the judiciary, develops and increases knowledge and expertise to help 
combat and dismantle child sex offender networks, and save the children involved. This training also aims 
to build fundamental skills in investigating child exploitation on the Internet and to bring law enforce-
ment investigation standards together. The latest investigation techniques, methods and experiences 
are also shared.
Opening the course up to members of the judiciary, such as prosecutors and judges, contributes to a 
better understanding of the crime area, the investigation methods used and the possible constraints 
that investigators are confronted with. As of today, following the 12th training course, around 550 law 
enforcement officers and 50 members of the judiciary from the EU and beyond have attended.
Europol reports
Scan Notices, for law enforcement use only, are produced on an ad-hoc basis, to raise awareness and 
inform Europol’s partners that are engaged in combating and preventing the sexual exploitation of chil-
dren, about issues that may have an impact on law enforcement agencies operating within the EU and 
elsewhere.
Among other things, these intelligence notices allow external authors to provide contributions that are 
included in the report in order to share knowledge and best practice within the law enforcement com-
munity.
A comprehensive study on international and EU Member States’ legislation and substantial and proce-
dural law-related issues was released by Europol in 2011. A second edition of this study will be released 
in the near future. 
Relevant legislation
EU legislation
•  Decision N° 276/1999/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 January 1999 adopting 
a Multiannual Community action plan on promoting safer use of the Internet by combating illegal and 
harmful content on global networks (OJ L 33 of 6.2.1999)
•  Council Decision N° 2000/375/JHA of 29 May 2000 to combat child pornography on the Internet (OJ L 
138 of 9.6.2000)
•  Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council replacing Council Framework 
Decision 2004/68/JHA on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, OJ L 
13 of 20.1.2004.
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CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION Fact sheet 2012
Council of Europe Conventions
•  2001 Budapest Convention on Cybercrime (CETS N° 185) (see Article 9, paragraph 2 (a) on child por-
nography). Entered into force in 2004. In force in the following EU countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Den-
mark,  Estonia,  Finland,  France, Germany,  Hungary,  Italy,  Latvia,  Lithuania,  Netherlands,  Portugal, 
Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. It is also in effect in the Ukraine and in the US.
•  2007 Lanzarote Convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse 
(CETS N° 201). Entered into force on 1.7.2010. In force in the following EU countries: Albania, Austria, 
Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the 
Netherlands, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Spain, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and 
Turkey4 .
UN Conventions
•  1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, entered into force on 2 September 1990 (see Article 
34c) on the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials). Ratified by all 
EU Member States. Not ratified by the US.
•  2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the rights of the child on the sale of children, child pros-
titution and child pornography (see Article 2 c defining child pornography). Not ratified by the follow-
ing EU Member States: Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta.
Related legislation
•  The EU legislation on trafficking also includes trafficking in relation to sexual exploitation. The cur-
rently applicable legislation is contained in Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA which is now the ob-
ject of a proposal for a directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and pro-
tecting victims repealing Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA (see Article 2 (3) and (5) with regard to 
child trafficking for sexual exploitation).
•  The International Labour Organization Convention N° 182, concerning the Prohibition and immedi-
ate Action for the elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, also refers to child prostitution and 
child pornography (Article 3 b).
4 Status as of: 23/07/2012
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