Dutch police must do more digital investigation in child sex abuse cases: Rapporteur

Dutch police
A sign hanging in front of a Dutch police post. April 30, 2006Photo: M.M.Minderhoud via Michiel1972Wikimedia CommonsCC-BY-SA

The police must conduct digital investigations more often in cases where child sex abuse is suspected, the National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking and Sexual Abuse Against Children said in a new report. "The police do a lot of digital research in online cases, such as child pornography, but with physical sexual abuse that is not yet standard", Rapporteur Herman Bolhaar said. A third of child sexual abuse cases are dropped due to a lack of evidence. That's about 500 cases a year, NOS reports.

According to Bolhaar, digital investigation in child sex abuse cases must become the norm, as this makes it more likely that evidence will be found. "In these cases it is often one story against another. You then need more than a statement from the victim or a witness. That's why the police must look for clues on smartphones, computers and on the internet."

The police acknowledged the Rapporteur's criticism and told NOS that the sex crime department is getting more digital detectives. "We have already taken major steps, but want to do more digital investigations in the future", a spokesperson said to the broadcaster.

The number reports of sexual abuse involving minors increased over the past years, from 2,900 in 2013 to 3,400 last year. About half of the reports led to charges being pressed. The number of tips in the area of child pornography increased six-fold over the past few years, according to the Rapporteur. Despite this, the number of sex crime cases that end up in court is decreasing. In 2013 a total of 2 thousand cases ended in prosecution. In 2017 it was 1,400. "I find that worrying", Bolhaar said.

According to the police, the decline is due to increasingly complex child pornography investigations. "We especially want to track down the children who are victims", the spokesperson said to NOS. "Those are difficult investigations that we spend a lot of time on, but we find that more important than the relatively easy investigations into downloaders of child pornography." The police also emphasized that investigation is only a partial solution to child sex abuse, and that more must be invested in prevention. 

Earlier this month RTL Nieuws reported that the police discourage parents from filing charges if they suspect that their child is being abused at a childcare institution. The police told the broadcaster that they have to discuss the chances of a case's success with parents, but it is not meant to be a discouragement.