Online child sex abuse rates soar: inquiry

Online child sexual exploitation rates are booming across Australia, prompting calls to focus on pre-emptive measures to curb the rise.

Acting eSafety Commissioner Toby Dagg told a parliamentary inquiry that some 15,000 URLs potentially containing child abuse material were reported to his department last financial year, a 65 per cent climb on pre-pandemic levels.

Extorting children is also an emerging trend, with Mr Dagg reporting that rates on non-consensual sharing of images were up 210 per cent between December 2021 and June this year.

He said extortion was the trend authorities would need to look out for, a call echoed by Australian Federal Police, who say their 100 reports each month from child victims of extortion was almost certainly not painting the full picture.

"We've seen a shift in offender preferences that now show ... (content) originating offshore, primarily from places like the Philippines and Africa, as part of a very organised criminal enterprise," Mr Dagg told the inquiry.

"They target vulnerable young people with threats, to generate a monetary benefit."

AFP acting assistant commissioner Stephen Dametto, who noted the child exploitation unit had hit 221 offenders with a combined 1746 charges last financial year, said the extortion trend had links to organised crime.

"More than 100 children each month report to Australian law enforcement they are victims of extortion, and analysis confirms this is a fraction of the real number," he said.

"This extortion thrives on creating fear and apprehension in young victims, and adapts to avoid law enforcement."

Mr Dagg said a prevention-first approach would be necessary, arguing "we can't arrest our way out of this problem".

"We're supportive of mechanisms (that provide) prevention messaging and an opportunity to disclose what's happening in their lives ... there's a very pleasing pilot being conducted in Australia based on the 'stop it now' model," he said.

Project Karma director Glen Hulley encouraged people to view child sexual abuse as a mental and public health issue and to develop strategies in a proactive way.

"What we know about mental disorders is there are no cures, there is only management and treatment ... that is the mental switch our politicians, law enforcement, judiciaries need to understand in order to create laws that are going to be effective," he said.

"We're still of the mindset it's just another crime and we put them in jail and expect there'll be some sort of reform ... it doesn't work and we can't lock people up forever."