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NPCC response to Police Foundation report on tackling online child sexual abuse

19 Jul 2022

The Police Foundation have released a new report looking at what can be done to help “turn the tide” on online Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). The report also includes recommendations for law enforcement agencies. 

The report can be found here, via the Police Foundation website.

National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Child Protection, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, said: 

"As a society we need to stop online abuse happening in the first place. I want to ensure that Tech Companies fulfil their legal and moral obligations to keep children safe from harm within the online communities they have created; communities from which they are making huge amounts of money. This is what the public and every parent would expect. We seek to work with these companies and platforms to do this and continue to receive regular referrals from them. 

"An approach to prevention incorporates the work we are doing with the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) taskforce, along with partners across policing and in education who seek to reduce ‘harmful behaviours’. We also seek to work with third sector partners and others to signpost parents and children to appropriate advice and support; and to deter offenders and intervene before harmful thoughts become harmful behaviours, through the 'Stop it Now' and 'Safer Lives' campaigns, and other initiatives.

"We work tirelessly to give confidence to victims, parents and trusted adults to report online offences when they have occurred – whether through the Internet Watch Foundation (to report and remove content) or into policing (to report crime), and we are giving enhanced knowledge and guidance to our staff on how to deal with issues caused by a changing digital landscape, such as for self-generated indecent imagery.

"Online access by children and young people in the UK is engrained, with access afforded through a variety of digital devices. Our children are online, and therefore vulnerable. Even very young children use apps which give access to other internet users, and are therefore at risk of being exposed to the dark side of the online world. We can’t hide from this and must be preventative and proactive in tackling the issue.

“We know that Covid 19 has impacted our children’s experiences and interactions online. Lockdown restrictions resulted in increased numbers of offenders and victims being online, across different platforms, for longer periods of time. This resulted in the threat being amplified. The sheer volume of child sexual abuse material available on the open web provides opportunities for offenders to develop their sexual interest in children in an unregulated environment. The Online Safety Bill is therefore a much needed piece of legislation that will protect children from being harmed, groomed and exploited.

“Specialist investigators across the country work relentlessly on really tough and upsetting investigations every day. They do this to keep our children safe, and robustly pursue offenders. Despite this monumental effort, reports continue to rise. This report shines a spotlight on the essential work already being carried out and recognises the enormous impact of online child sexual abuse on society and therefore law enforcement.

“We have increased resources in our Online Child Abuse Investigation Teams and are enhancing our digital capabilities. We enjoy close working relationships with partners including the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, and the Internet Watch Foundation, who seek to identify and remove child abuse imagery wherever that is in the world, identify harmful behaviours and allow young people to seek support.

“This report rightly highlights the rise in self-generated indecent imagery, where even images taken and shared within peer groups can quickly make their way online, with the child losing control of that image, which is deeply traumatising. We have seen a huge increase in this crime type – but this is a crime type where, largely, children need be supported and educated, not criminalised. There is a clear need through the work we are doing with the National Crime Agency to prioritise and differentiate between these cases, and cases where children are exploited, blackmailed, groomed, threatened, and abused.

“We welcome the recommendations for further investment and are committed to continuing our tireless work to identify offenders and bring them to justice whilst protecting children from harm, which we know can have a lifetime impact. We will consider these recommendations, and the next steps law enforcement needs to take to tackle this most abhorrent abuse."