Sexual abuse of hundreds of Dutch kids shared on dark web: report

Child with teddy bear

On the dark web, men in private networks frequently share images on which specifically Dutch children are abused. New material is added every week, including of children who are still being actively abused, according to research by RTL Nieuws, which went undercover on 14 such networks for several months. 

The broadcaster said it informed the police about the investigation before publication. The police are monitoring the currently still active networks. The anonymity of the dark web makes it difficult to take these networks offline.

Within these networks, a large group of Dutch members specifically look for Dutch child pornography. They say that the majority of available child pornography, often of Eastern European and Asian children, feel too far away, according to RTL. They find it more exciting to watch Dutch children being abused. 

One of the videos the broadcaster saw features a girl of about six years old watching TV on her bed. The Dutch-language Disney channel is switched on and a man sitting on her bed behind her molests her for several minutes. Another victim, a naked girl also of about six, holds a paper in her hand with the text: "I am a slut, xxx". The date is also included on the paper. "This gives that little something extra", a member said to the broadcaster. "You often think it's a far-from-my-bed show, but it's closer than you think."

Each of the platforms RTL investigated revolves around a sexual preference, such as young girls, young boys or babies. Many thousands of Dutch are active in these networks. Each of the networks divided the images they have into different age categories, 0-2 years and 2-5 years, for example. The maximum age is 17 years. There are also categories for all kinds of fetishes. 

The majority of victims are young girls. There are also dozens of videos of Dutch babies being abused, some who look to be only a few months old, according to RTL. The names of the victims are not mentioned, which makes it harder for the police to track down the children. The victims are often named after external characteristics, such as 'beautiful brown eyes' or 'ponytails'. 

The members also share photos and videos of naked children, for example on holiday photos or secretly recorded in the changing rooms of Dutch swimming pools. There are also videos of young children undressing in front of a webcam. On, for example, the Omegle chat service, the abusers encourage children to undress in front of a webcam and show body parts. Some members also share 'hurtcore', the term for child pornography focused on the pain and humiliation of particularly babies and toddlers. 

In addition to child pornography, the members also share manuals on how to protect themselves while they watch, create and exchange child pornography. They also give each other tips on how to get in touch with children, for example by joining a neighborhood- or sports club. According to the broadcaster, some even suggest doing volunteer work with 'problem children', who they say are more vulnerable and therefore easier to abuse. A handbook for child abusers, which RTL reported on last year, is also shared on these networks.

The networks are set up professionally and with a form of hierarchy. A small number of the members have a higher position. They help others protect themselves, manage te channels where abuse videos are shared, and ensure that the photos and videos are properly presented. Buying and selling material is not allowed - they are freely shared and sometimes exchanged. 

New members have access to 'starter packages', which contain a compilation of images that match a sexual preference, according to RTL. Some of the networks also have VIP rooms available. In these extra private areas, members can share their self-made images with a select group of fellow abusers. They feel more free in these VIP rooms, because the members have to share self-made material to gain access. "RTL Nieuws has not found a way to gain ethically responsible access to this private part", the broadcaster wrote. 

The police told the broadcaster that around 10 to 20 percent of the images shared on these networks are new material. "In general we often see old material of which the case has already been solved", Ben van Mierlo, head of the child pornography team at the police, said to RTL. "Our investigators look for new material that shows current abuse." According to Van Mierlo, footage of some 1,700 Dutch children being abused have been distributed online. That happens in these types of networks, but abusers also share the images directly with each other. 

Every year the police's child pornography team rescues around 170 children from abusive situations.