Add child sex abuse to the list of terrible things caused (or worsened) by the coronavirus. Australian police have issued a grim warning that online predators have been particularly active throughout the pandemic and are likely to become even more active as parts of Victoria are locked back down in the wake of a surge in cases.

Just yesterday Victoria reported 484 new COVID cases—a new record for Australia, which for the most part has done a good job containing the virus. Much better than, say, the United States, which to date has 3.9 million confirmed cases and over 140,000 deaths. 63,000 new cases were reported there yesterday.

Australian health officials say it could take weeks to suppress the new outbreak in Victoria. That means more stay at home orders and, according to the police, a far more dangerous internet environment for children.

“We suspect that offenders will use this second wave of COVID-19 as an opportunity to find more potential child victims, as young people spend an increasing amount of time online with limited adult supervision,” said police commander Jamie Strauss. “Our message to online offenders has not changed—if you procure, access and transmit child abuse material, you will be found, arrested and prosecuted.”

Reuters reports that, during the initial COVID lockdown, police observed a massive jump in traffic to child pornography websites. And child porn was uploaded to the dark web at double the pre-lockdown rate.

According to Karen Flanagan, the Australia head of child protection at Save the Children, “Sex offenders are always online—that’s their playground.” She added:

“But COVID-19 might have given them access to new groups of children who previously didn’t spend as much time online.”

Child sex abuse is getting worse in Australia, increasing by 50 percent over the last year. But it’s not just Australia that is dealing with this plague. Child exploitation is a pandemic within a pandemic. Reuters reports that online child sex abuse is worsening across the entire world as predators exploit the closure of schools for their own sordid ends.

In addition to Victoria, COVID cases are showing up in greater numbers in New South Wales, stoking fears of another strict lockdown and a major setback to the nation’s economic recovery. Time, as always, will tell.

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Culture blogger and former commissioner of the web's leading unofficial Dawson's Creek fanclub.

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