Joe Gray /

COVID-19: 'A Predator's Paradise'​

3 min read
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With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the differing levels of restrictions being imposed by countries, from full quarantine to the lesser ‘self-isolation’ precautionary measures, we have seen schools, colleges and universities being closed along with many employees being asked to work from home or more severely released from employment. This has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people utilising live streaming applications (apps), which is understandable as people now have a lot more time on their hands.   

We have seen celebrities provide free live concerts, from their homes or empty venues, and the number of podcasts and videocasts increase in an attempt to distract us from the mind-numbing boringness of our forced seclusion. People will quite rightly find ways to occupy their time and, as previously stated, we are seeing this by the measurable increase in the number of people accessing live streaming apps. So what? I hear you say it’s predictable, it’s normal and inevitable. 

Well, at Pathfinder Labs, from our previous experience and expertise we know that offenders are more active during public holidays when they have less outside influence, or barriers created by normal routine, getting in their way.   

Children love to access live streaming apps as it is now their ‘norm’; however, education and parental restrictions (online access and bedtimes) limit the amount of time they can spend providing online content to others.  

We now have offenders at home 24/7, children at home 24/7 with ‘less inhibitors’ to their potential online interactions. Can you see where we are going with this?   

Pathfinder Labs systems have identified a huge increase in the number of live streams per day, which by itself, as already discussed, can be explained by the extraordinary situation we currently find ourselves. Now take the statistics and use them in conjunction with the knowledge we have from our experience investigating the online abuse of children. The increase in children online streaming live and the increase in offenders being online, lurking and identifying children susceptible to being groomed will inevitably mean more offending, more victims* and more new ‘material’ being produced.  Law Enforcement are already unable to effectively deal with the live streaming issue due to the enormity of the task. The number of actual investigators available to deal with the grooming of children through live streaming, using traditional methods, is already seriously lacking and that was before we put COVID-19 into the equation.

The Law Enforcement community needs technology to support investigators and their hunt for offenders or identifying victims. Pathfinder Labs have created tailor-made tools and technology, using our expertise to provide that ‘support’ by monitoring sites, identifying at-risk users, targets and material being traded online. We use the term ‘support’ as we know that technology alone will not be able to deal with the situation, it must be used in combination with traditional investigative measures as well as with proactive online investigations by fully trained online investigators.  

 *This does not include the predictable increase in physical offending within the home*