Paedophiles ‘casting net wide’ as sex crimes triple September 29 2016
Internet child sexual abuse offences have almost tripled in the past five years in Scotland as paedophiles increasingly turn to social media and smartphones in search of young victims.
The crime of taking, distributing and possessing indecent images of children has jumped by 186 per cent since 2010, new police figures show.
Figures released by Police Scotland show that in 2010/11 there were 225 internet child sexual abuse crimes recorded by police, but by 2015/16 this had risen to 645 offences. Child protection charities say that the internet is allowing sexual predators to “cast their net very widely” in their hunt for victims.
Alan Wardle, head of policy at the NSPCC, said that a greater confidence among victims to come forward and report offences had played a part in the rise in numbers but that there was also a growing threat online.
“I think there is now a much greater recognition that this is a serious crime and that it has serious consequences for its victims,” he said. “Predators are able to cast their net very widely online. They will fire out messages to children very widely and then try to lure them in, but there is also a problem of children taking images themselves and sending them to someone and it gets out of their control and ends up in the collections of paedophiles. There is an issue about the internet being able to meet the desires [of paedophiles] that wouldn’t have been possible before.”
Mr Wardle said that the police, internet companies and wider society needed to be “skilled up” about online security to deal with the rising problem.
Online child sexual abuse is a national threat — the reality is it is happening now
A recent investigation into Scottish crime figures revealed that 11.4 per cent of all sex crimes had a “cyber element”, of which a significant proportion involved children.
The report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) found that criminals were using social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to carry out attacks against children, including rape.
The HMICS crime audit detailed how an eight-year-old child received indecent images via a popular app on their smartphone.
Other crimes involved young children being coerced to view adults engaging in sexual activity via their phone, or being bullied into taking and sending indecent images of themselves.
Although many parents were aware of the need for internet restrictions on their home computer to protect their children, the report said it was “clear” that many of the sex crimes targeted at children were committed via apps on smartphones and tablets.
The true scale of the problem is hidden from view, however, because many are not recorded by the police.
The HMICS crime audit discovered that more than a quarter of cyber-related sex crimes did not result in a police report.
Highlighting the fact that many of the perpetrators are outside Scotland, and their actions are not recorded as a crime, it said: “This is a concern, given that statistics may be used to develop policy, resource policing and design victim support or education services.”
Police Scotland is aware of the increase in cyber-enabled crime and the risk of online sexual harm. In June and July this year it carried out Operation Latisse, a national initiative which focused on tackling online child sexual abuse.
By the end of July, it had resulted in 77 people being arrested and charged, the identification of more than 500 children, aged between three and 18, who were either victims or potential victims of online predators, as well as the recovery of 30 million images of abuse.
Malcolm Graham, the assistant chief constable (major crime and public protection), said: “Online child sexual abuse is a national threat — the reality is it is happening now, not only in Scotland but across the world, to children of all ages, from infants to teenagers. Operation Latisse was about shining a light on the scale of this issue — it was focused activity to tackle the many forms of online child sexual abuse by identifying those who pose a risk to children online and, more importantly, identifying victims of online sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as preventing more youngsters becoming victims.”