The Netherlands should deploy web crawlers in the fight against online child sex abuse

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) and Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children, Corinne Dettmeijer, recommend for the Dutch police to use web crawlers. Their recommendation is based on research investigating the experiences of victims of child pornography. These web crawlers perform automated searches on the Internet for child pornography material, so that it can be removed.

Sexual exploitation

The fact that these victims have not only been abused but that visual material of the abuse exists that possibly still is in circulation, has proven to add an additional component to their victimhood. The use of web crawlers can help and is urgently needed in the Netherlands. Worldwide, the Netherlands ranks second when it comes to hosting child pornography. Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children Corinne Dettmeijer: ‘the technology is available, so the police now really has to start using it. It is an efficient means for removal of child pornography that is still circulating from the web, which is very important to the victims.'

Terre des Hommes already uses webcrawlers

The WATCH Netherlands Action & Observation Unit, led by Terre des Hommes, already uses web crawlers. The crawler screens tens of thousands of online sex advertisements for sexual exploitation of minors. In the event that minors are possibly offered in the advertisement, a notification is sent to the researchers of WATCH Netherlands. These advertisements are then further investigated.

Research investigating victims of child pornography

Dettmeijer and the CCCP base their statements on a report that was published earlier this week about the experiences of victims of child pornography. One hundred and fifty victims from different countries completed a questionnaire drawn up by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection via the Internet. 71 victims indicated that they are afraid of being recognized.

30% of the respondents has been recognised on the street

‘We should not underestimate the impact of the fact that images of the abuse exist and possibly always will exist. It makes the victims feel as if they have lost control over their life’, says Dettmeijer, who was also involved in the investigation. One of the victims in the investigation says: ‘it is out there for everyone to see. When someone walks past, I don’t know if that person has seen it. That is extremely difficult for me.’ Thirty victims indicate that someone who had recognised them from images that were online has actually approached them.


Many victims struggle telling someone about the abuse. In addition, talking about it does not always seem to improve their situation. 26 victims confided in someone while the abuse was still ongoing, but in 16 cases this did not put an end to the abuse. Therapy received by the victims is often felt to be inadequate.

Abuse often starts at a young age

It is striking that no less than 74 respondents indicate to have been abused by multiple abusers who worked together. Other results are more in keeping with the existing knowledge about sexual abuse in general. 85 victims indicate that the abuse started before their fifth birthday. Child pornography material often shows children under the age of five. Dettmeijer: ‘the police does not interrogate these children, which may mean that we miss these victims. It is important to pay attention to this group though.’ As is the case with sexual abuse in general, the abusers in the cases in this investigation are also often a member of the child’s familiar surroundings: 63 victims indicated that the abuser lived in their house.

Research with support from Terre des Hommes

The National Rapporteur was part of an international working group that monitored the investigation. The questionnaire is translated with the support of Terre des Hommes, Fonds Slachtofferhulp, Pro Juventute and Stichting Achmea Slachtoffer en Samenleving, who also shared the call within their network. Almost half of the respondents is Dutch.

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