Reports of child pornography crime in Winnipeg rose sharply during the pandemic, new data released by police suggest.
In 2020, there were 287 child pornography incidents in Winnipeg, according to the Winnipeg Police Service Statistical Report from that year.
That’s a 92.6 percent increase from 2019 and nearly 200 percent more than the five-year average.
“I think it’s just that we’re becoming aware of many more of these incidents. That’s how child porn comes to our attention – people report on other people – so I think you see a bit of that,” said Police Chief Danny Smyth to CBC News.
“A lot of people live in close-knit households that are aware of the activities of others. So we are certainly aware of that increase.”
Smyth was unable to break down how many of these incidents are related to the manufacture, distribution or consumption of material for the sexual abuse of children.
“It’s certainly worrying … but sadly not surprising,” said Signy Arnason, deputy executive director of the Canadian Center for Child Protection based in Winnipeg.
“Children are at home, most of the learning takes place online, the connection happens at significantly increased speeds. And then it is more vulnerable to being exploited.”
In addition, she says, material for the sexual abuse of children is often produced by family members and then distributed.
“It really happens on all sides for kids,” Arnason says.
The disturbing trend seems to be a cross-border issue according to Statistics Canada’s police reported data on crime, which was also released on Tuesday.
In 2020, there was a 27 percent increase in incidents of manufacturing or distributing material for child sexual abuse compared to 2019. This is an 89 percent increase in incidents compared to the previous five-year average.
Incidents of luring children via a computer have increased by 15 percent compared to 2019. This is a jump of 37 percent compared to the previous five-year average.
Parents and relatives have an important role to play, says Arnason.
“They need to know the apps that kids use, who they connect with, have regular discussions. And kids need to feel like they can get to their parents if something gets lost, without fear of retaliation, ” she said. “So these things are all very important, especially during this time.”
Wellness control rose during pandemic
Statistics also suggest that of all police calls for service, police were sent for more wellness checks than any other emergency in 2020.
The number of times police were sent to check on a person’s well-being increased by 12 percent from 2019, the report says.
“We’ve had a community that has dealt with an awful lot of isolation in lockdown, a lot of worries for friends and loved ones and no real way of being able to control people,” Smyth said.
“We probably see addiction and mental health contributing to it.”
Statistically, Winnipeg saw a modest decline in violent crime in 2020, in part due to the decline in the number of liquor store robberies.
In April 2020, controlled entrances were installed in all Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries liquor mart in the province.
However, the crime index and the total amount of violent crime remains high, says Smyth.
“I think the decline is probably driven by the fact that there were fewer robberies, but our homicide rates are very high again in the past year,” he said.
Smyth believes there could have been even more homicides last year if it were not for the diligent paramedics and police officers trained in trauma care who were called in for two or three stabbings a day.
“We use tournaments and suction pads just to help control bleeding in many of these cases. So it’s a daily occurrence for us now, and that’s a cause for concern,” he said.