Police chief: Children will not be safe online until tech companies act against sexual abuse

Chief Constable Simon Bailey at NOSCAS 2018. PIC: Neil Perry

Chief Constable Simon Bailey at NOSCAS 2018. PIC: Neil Perry - Credit: Archant

Norfolk's police chief has warned children will not be safe online unless tech giants take action against grooming and sexual abuse.

It comes as the number of online child sexual offences has doubled in Norfolk in four years, and referrals to police forces continue to rise.

Figures collected by the NSPCC reveal 22 crimes each day are being logged across the UK, but the charity has warned it is the "tip of the iceberg".

Since police began recording cyber-related sex crimes in 2014-15, the number logged in Norfolk has more than doubled.

Police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland recorded 8,224 child sexual offences with an online element in 2018/19. 168 were in Norfolk.

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For offences where the age was recorded across the UK, 13 was the most common age of the victim but there were 185 offences committed against children aged ten and under; including babies yet to reach their first birthday.

Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who is also the National Police Chief's Council lead on child protection, said it is "worrying" that the UK is the third largest consumer of live-streamed child sexual abuse.

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But he said a "significant element" of the rise in offences is the "result of a direct response by the police service to the proliferation of indecent images and online grooming".

He said between 400 and 450 men are arrested a month nationally and between 500 and 600 children safeguarded.

"The response from UK law enforcement is the most robust and comprehensive of any in the world," he said.

"We are doing our best to target those people who upload, share and view images of children online and target those people that are grooming children online.

"While I am really proud of the service's response it is a great source of concern the number of referrals we continue to receive just grow year on year.

"Ultimately until such time as the companies that provide the facility to go online and upload images or groom children and actually tackle that threat, we are never going to be confident of keeping children safe online.

"Offenders now have opportunities which 20 or 30 years ago they simply did not have. They believe they can operate with a degree of anonymity and can't be identified. That is categorically wrong.

"The web has made the world a small place. What is reassuring is less than one per cent of indecent images are hosted in the UK. What is worrying is that the UK is in the top three countries streaming the live abuse of children."

The NSPCC said the figures may not reveal the true extent of the problem due to potential under-recording of the role of online in these crimes and wide logging variation across forces.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO, said: "Behind each offence is a child suffering at the hands of sex offenders and, worryingly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg.

"Far too many children are drowning in a sea of online threats so it's now time for the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be, to cast out the life jacket.

"He must hold his nerve and introduce an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of abuse and harmful content."

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