Ontario students are being warned about online predators who post explicit photographs of young children on social media, but a group of concerned parents says the provincial government should do more to alert them and keep their children safe. Their efforts have been aided by a team of researchers affiliated with the University of Waterloo in Ontario who are following detailed complaints of sexual abuse against children and documenting the ongoing efforts of law enforcement to identify those responsible.
At least 47 known or suspected cases have been reported since 2004, the researchers found. The most recent came in September 2017. Of those cases, at least 19 involve children in the ages of 13 to 15. All of the investigations into these reported cases took place before 2018, some as long as 16 years ago. Children in Ontario are clearly being abused, but what’s concerning is how long it’s taking to document their stories, and to identify who the offenders are. Based on the number of cases that have been reported, the length of time it takes to investigate and charge those responsible is being reduced, but the rate of adult criminal convictions is still too slow to keep up with the escalating violence being inflicted on children.
The data released by the researchers suggests little has changed in the past 16 years, even after the experts working on this case project told the Ontario government that there is clearly no single crime that can be combated. But rather than simply continuing to point the finger at an alleged lack of resources, the government should consider expanding the number of staff working with children who have been victimized in order to meet the growing need for research in this area.
The cases involving children in Ontario are not limited to this province. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, B.C., New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and many other provinces and territories have similar concerns regarding the conduct of adults. In each of these provinces, parents have been speaking up. Along with the cautionary stories, parents have expressed their concerns about the safety of children and demanding more education and training in order to keep their children safe. So far, though, the provinces have produced a cumulative total of only three times the number of cases publicized by the researchers in Ontario.
Attention to the problems facing children should continue, but more is needed. Ontario and other provinces must work to increase the number of staff assigned to investigating incidents of sexual abuse and of offenders. Government needs to ensure that funds are available for robust and frequent training for police, educators, and parents. The issue may be a familiar one, but the consequences are not.