This fact sheet describes Europol's current (as of 2010) activities and projects related to combating sexual exploitation of children.
‘Child sexual exploitation’ refers to the sexual abuse of a human being below the age of 18. Among other things, it includes the production of child abuse images and online dissemination as particularly serious forms of crime committed against children.
The distribution of images depicting the sexual exploitation of children is mainly facilitated by improper use of the Internet, as the apparent anonymity offered by this means of communication makes it difficult to successfully locate and identify the offenders and to save child victims from further exploitation.
It must be emphasised that the discovery of illegal material is only the beginning, of an investigation into the actual sexual exploitation (e.g. rape, sexual assault) of a child; there is a clear distinction between specific legislation on the offences related to the production, distribution/sale and possession of child sexual exploitation material and specific legislation on the sexual offences committed against children.
While there is no doubt that sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a serious problem, there is a lack of accurate and reliable statistics on the nature of the phenomenon and the numbers of children involved, mainly due to differences in national definitions of different child sexual abuse and exploitation offences.