A particular shampoo brand, a magazine cover, a shopping bag or even a wallpaper pattern are among the clues Europol posted online yesterday, hoping they might help trace child sex abusers and their victims.
Europe’s police agency launched a new Web site that shows everyday objects spotted in the background of child sex abuse images, which they hope will help police around the world to advance cases, leading them to victims and to the arrest of perpetrators.
The 20 images on the site, called “Stop Child Abuse — Trace an Object” feature “mundane objects ... which can sometimes end up being a key lead in an investigation, resulting in the victims’ identification and rescue,” said Steven Wilson, chief of Europol’s EC3 Cybercrime center.
Europol unveiled the images at its fortress-like headquarters in The Hague, where Wilson asked for help from the public to identify the items on the site.
There are even distinctive markings on a victim’s clothes — such as a kitten or a unicorn — or a picture of a snow-filled field with homes in the background, believed to have been taken by one victim.
“We’re looking to identify particular parts, particular items in there that may be unique to a particular region in the world, a particular country or even a particular town or village,” Wilson told reporters. “From that we can then work very closely with other law enforcement authorities and actually identify the people responsible for this.”
The Web site — www.europol.europa.eu/stopchildabuse — is designed to enable anonymous tip-offs, Wilson said.
“Once the origin of an object is identified, Europol will work with the relevant police forces in a country, and hopefully that will lead to the identification of the victim and the arrest of the offender,” he said.
Europol last year said that online child pornography, including the live-streaming of child sexual abuse, was on the rise.
In the Netherlands, a newspaper report on Wednesday said that Dutch police were for the first time describing child pornography as a “national threat.”
Criminals and pedophile networks often use the “Dark Web” and the Tor encryption system to mask their identities and distribute child sex abuse images online.
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