While the police had warned that grooming activity tends to intensify in times of crises, the Prosecutor’s Office said it is so far impossible to say whether the spike is linked to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In its annual report to the government, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office has reported a spike in serious, heinous and difficult-to-investigate crimes.
In particular, the Scandinavian country saw a dramatic increase in the suspected sexual exploitation of children, known as grooming. The number of reported cases has seen a year-on-year 66-percent spike, from 900 suspicions in 2019 to about 1,500 in 2020, national broadcaster SVT reported.
Overall, 9,500 suspected sexual offences against children were reported in 2020, which constitutes a 20-percent increase compared with 2019.
According to the prosecution, it is yet impossible to say whether the spike is linked to the pandemic.
“We have seen an increase in grooming cases against children that has been large. But I don’t dare to comment on whether it has anything to do with the pandemic,” Prosecutor General Petra Lundh said.
According to Lundh, there are many plaintiffs when it comes to the online sexual abuse of children in particular. She also stressed that these cases take a very long time and are very demanding in terms of efforts spent,
At the same time, she argued, her authority is faced with a high workload due to an onset of complicated and hard-to-solve crimes.
“It’s a problem. We cannot work with such a high workload for a long time,” Lundh said.
At the same time, she emphasised the demand that the sexual offences against children must be given a priority.
In 2020, the police rang the alarm bells about an increase of grooming activity online and urged parents across the country to be vigilant. According to Swedish law, courting a child under 15 in order to commit sexual abuse constitutes grooming.
“Those crimes have increased in a very short time,” Rickard Finndahl of the Eksjö police told national broadcaster SVT.
The organisation Save the Children warned that the risk of grooming tends to increase in times of crises, such as now during the coronavirus pandemic, when parents feel increasingly stressed and children may experience greater anxiety. This happens in combination with the fact that people spend more time in front of the computer, tablet or mobile phone when encouraged to practice social distancing. Among other things, children are contacted in chat groups and gaming apps.
In a 2018 survey by pollster Sifo, nearly four in ten children said that they had been contacted by an adult for sexual purposes.