Dramatic rise in online child exploitation reports in 2023: B.C. RCMP

The B.C. Integrated Child Exploitation unit of the RCMP says the number of reports of online child exploitation has skyrocketed since the start of the year. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)
The B.C. Integrated Child Exploitation unit of the RCMP says the number of reports of online child exploitation has skyrocketed since the start of the year. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This article contains details of online child exploitation and may affect those who have experienced it or know someone affected by it.

The unit that investigates online child exploitation in B.C. says it has noticed a dramatic rise in reports of the crime in 2023 and is advising children and caregivers to be vigilant.

The B.C. RCMP Integrated Child Exploitation (ICE) unit says it has received 5,790 reports of online child exploitation from Jan. 1 until March 31 this year — already more than half the entire number of the previous year.

ICE says it receives those reports from various sources, including referrals from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, social media platforms and national and international policing agencies like the FBI.

Number of online child exploitation reports received by B.C. RCMP


"The shocking numbers are showing that if the consistency and the rate continue for the remainder of the year, then those numbers may possibly more than double the abuse reports compared to last year," said Cpl. Sharen Leung, who works in the unit.

Leung says the rise — which has been reflected across the country — was observed over the course of the pandemic, as more children spent time indoors and on online platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.

She says the increase in reports shows the need for education around online child exploitation.

Currently, under the Criminal Code, anyone caught soliciting sexual images from a child can be charged with possessing or distributing child pornography, as well as other offences like child luring.

"We don't know what we don't know, and it's important to be able to recognize some of the dangers and the signs of how to navigate online safely," Leung said.

Experts say to not block harassers

Tiana Sharifi, the founder of the educational resource Sexual Exploitation Education, says that one of the telltale signs of attempted online child exploitation is when an online friend or follower starts asking inappropriate questions, like a teenager's dating history.

Other tactics may include showering someone with compliments, also called "love bombing."

"And then, [they] ask you to switch platforms. So if you're talking on Discord, for example, they ask to switch to WhatsApp or switch to Snapchat," Sharifi said. "That's the key element that you want to look for."

Thomas White/Reuters
Thomas White/Reuters

Brandon Laur, who produces online education materials and videos at The White Hatter, says that exploiters will appear trustworthy in order to entice their victims.

He says that parents and caregivers should communicate openly with their children about the risks of online harassers.

"Look for changes in behaviours, like sudden changes," he said. "Often, you'll see distancing from the family, behavioural challenges popping up, so you want to be on the lookout for those indicators."

Laur and Sharifi both say that blocking harassers may be counterproductive, as it would deprive investigators of evidence that they may need to stop sexual materials from circulating.

Police suggest the following to avoid falling victim to sexual extortion:

  • Never answer video calls from people you don't know.

  • If you mistakenly connect with someone you don't know over livestream, immediately hang up.

  • Always answer video calls with the camera turned off until you know the identity of the person calling.

Anyone who finds themselves targeted should immediately stop communicating with the suspected scammer and report it to police. Child exploitation can be reported online at www.cybertip.ca.

Police also say victims should not comply with threats and should keep records of any correspondence with the perpetrator.