New Zealand children exploited for pornography
Nearly 30 New Zealand children have been exploited for online pornography in the last four years, and levels of offending remain steady.
Since the set up of a special police unit in 2008, 11 people have been caught taking pictures or videos of children.
Some of the offenders had multiple victims, and of the 26 children, four were exploited by criminals from the United States, Italy, Finland and Canada.
The head of the police online child exploitation unit, Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, said as more teams are created with a focus of protecting children, more child pornography is unearthed.
"I suppose it's been steady. I think what's probably happening is you've got more teams that are focussed to trying to identify child victims," he said.
"So you've got police, then you've got our team, the OCEANZ unit, and then you've got the Corrections Unit and Department of Internal Affairs. So because we've got that coordinated approach, you're only going to uncover more stuff."
The unit, called the Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (OCEANZ), has saved 61 New Zealand children from potential sexual abuse since it was set up, and four have been placed in protection.
It has also safeguarded 15 overseas children from potential abuse situations over this period.
But though levels of offending have not shifted significantly, Michael is certain the rise of social networking has had a detrimental impact on the problem.
"I think the rise of social networking sites has opened the opportunity for offenders to make contact with vulnerable children, to encourage them to take those sort of things and to make them easier to disseminate as well," he said.
"There are lots of different social networks, and offenders will proactively look for vulnerable children...usually presenting as another child, different sex or age than they actually are."
Sexting exacerbates the issue, making teens more vulnerable targets as they send explicit images of themselves to their boyfriends or girlfriends.
"You've got your young children, who are eight, nine upwards, that are using the internet unsupervised. And then you've got your teenagers - and if you look at the behaviour of teenagers, one of the trends that's recognised as being quite common is the whole area of sexting," he said.
"Once they've sent it, they've lost control of it. So there's a whole potential then for that image to be disseminated further among friend groups - wider than that."
Michael said though international crime rings are involved, there is also a large number of individuals searching for vulnerable children.
Members of the OCEANZ squad coordinate international operations into online paedophile networks, and patrol social network sites to identify child sexual offenders.
The unit is in contact with similar groups overseas every day.