Up to 750,000 men living in Britain may have an interest in having sex with children, the Government has been warned.
A shocking analysis by the National Crime Agency reveals that about one in 35 adult males poses a potential risk of being a child abuser or of seeking out child sex images online.
Horrifically, as many as 250,000 men may be sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children – defined as those under 12 – according to the findings disclosed exclusively to The Mail on Sunday.
Phil Gormley, the deputy director general of the National Crime Agency (NCA), said: ‘We are starting to get a real sense of the scale.’
He also warned that paedophiles are so numerous that ‘the reality is that we are all living not far away from one’.
Calling for an urgent new approach to safeguard children from potential abusers before they strike, he said: ‘If all we have is arrest and incarceration that will not help them come forward.’
Among new measures being developed is a system that would alert minors when they are being groomed by men posing as fellow children when talking to them through Facebook or other social networking sites.
Software will look for clues in the pattern of behaviour being used by predators before raising the alarm with a ‘traffic light’ system of warnings.
Senior police, politicians and child protection groups want to spark debate over the best way to encourage paedophiles to seek assistance before they harm children – but Mr Gormley accepts that this is an ‘uncomfortable discussion’ for the public.
The shocking figures come from estimates based on academic research and the best available evidence from other sources. They indicate that between one and three per cent of males have paedophilic tendencies, and match figures from other countries in Europe.
Not all the men act on their deviant desires. One expert dealing with paedophiles estimated from his experiences that about half of such men recognise the dangers and want help controlling their urges.
However, the NSPCC warns that the figures, though shocking, may still be an underestimate of the number of potential abusers. The charity says at least one in 12 children has suffered assault.
Last year alone, a warning that pops up in response to Google searches for illegal images of children was set off three million times in Britain.
Yet Google is used in only about half the searches for child pornography. A Home Office source described the scale of the problem as ‘mind-boggling’, with huge implications across child protection services, courts, police, prisons, probation services and schools.
|Senior police, politicians and child protection groups want to spark debate|
over the best way to encourage paedophiles to seek assistance
before they harm children (picture posed by model)
Official bodies are coming under increasing strain in dealing with the problem.
Investigations by police in England and Wales into child sex abuse have risen by 71 per cent since 2012, with the number of cases this year projected to reach 113,000.
Meanwhile, child abuse investigations by the NCA – the body dubbed ‘Britain’s FBI’ as it has a far wider reach than local police forces – have risen from single figures when it was set up almost two years ago to more than 150 today.
More than one in six prisoners is now a sex offender. Many of them are housed in eight specialist jails, up from five just two years ago.
The Government is so alarmed that it has appointed a Minister dedicated to preventing child abuse, the first such post in British history.
The NCA’s disturbing disclosure comes as public bodies grapple with the scale of child abuse highlighted by scandals including the Jimmy Savile affair
Karen Bradley said: ‘One of the biggest challenges is that the country doesn’t yet appreciate the true scale of the problem of child abuse, whether that is abuse that has happened in the past or that is happening right now in our communities, in our homes or online.’
In an article for today’s The Mail on Sunday, Ms Bradley says this is ‘a watershed moment’ and called on the British public to come to terms with the issue. In her first public intervention since taking the job she says: ‘We must look unblinkingly at the reality. Raise our voices when we suspect a child is at risk and work together to find solutions.’
Three months ago Home Secretary Theresa May issued a stark warning that Britain did not yet realise the massive scale of sexual exploitation of children, adding that abuse runs through every level of society. Last week, the NSPCC issued a report revealing soaring levels of sexual offences against minors and of children taken into care.
The majority of abuse victims were aged between 12 and 16, but more than one in four were younger.
‘This is just the tip of the iceberg,’ said John Brown, who heads the charity’s sexual abuse programme. ‘So much abuse and exploitation goes undetected when the only witnesses are the offender and the child. It only emerges years later, as we saw with Savile.’
Phil Gormley, the deputy director general of the National Crime Agency (NCA) warned that paedophiles are so numerous that ‘the reality is that we are all living not far away from one’
During 28 years as a detective, Phil Gormley thought he had seen it all, from vicious rapes to brutal murders. Like other police officers, he has also had to confront sickening evidence of child sex abuse.
Yet the former chief constable – now deputy director general of the National Crime Agency – was horrified to discover just how many British men have a sexual desire for children.
‘Like most people, I am shocked by the estimated number who have this interest,’ he says. ‘It tells us some unhealthy things about human nature.’
Sitting in their London office, Gormley and his colleague Johnny Gwynne, head of Child Exploitation And Online Protection, disclose to me figures that are simply astonishing.
Gwynne says there are no absolute figures given the furtive nature of this proclivity. But based on detailed research, he believes at least one per cent of adult men may have sexual interest in minors. But he adds: ‘Some go up to three per cent. The number I would put on it is 750,000 men in this country.’
Of these, he says, about a third are ‘true paedophiles’, as defined by scientists for having an interest in pre-pubescent children – those under 12.
‘Whatever the exact figure, it is big,’ adds Gormley. ‘Every day another group of young men are coming to puberty and developing this interest.’
Thanks, greatly, to internet pornography!
The disturbing data is based upon academic evidence and current consensus among experts. The Mail on Sunday has established it is accepted as accurate within the Home Office, senior police levels and child protection bodies. Not all the men act on their urges, they say.
A senior Home Office source says such figures seem ‘unfathomable’ at first. ‘But once you get involved in the area you realise this is such a vast problem. It is just incredible.’
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP and campaigner on the issue, adds: ‘This is just horrifying and gives us an indication of the size of the problem. We have to really come up with a national strategy to handle this.’
In recent years the authorities have been coming to terms with the scale of child sex abuse and exploitation. Prisons are now overflowing with sex offenders, who make up more than one in six inmates. This followed the slew of historic cases such as revelations surrounding celebrities such as Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall, along with details of grooming gangs in Rotherham and Oxford, plus allegations of abuse at highest levels in Westminster.
Three months ago, Home Secretary Theresa May warned, ‘We will never look at society in the same way again’ once an inquiry she set up into such child abuse reports back. Now it becomes clearer why she made such grim comments.
Gormley admits child sex abuse has not been ‘centre stage of policy’ for most of his three decades in policing, but says there have been huge steps forward in the past two years. When the National Crime Agency was established to confront organised crime in October 2013, it had fewer than ten cases of child abuse. Today it is investigating more than 150, with 300 dedicated detectives in its child protection unit.
Almost 750 people were caught in one major case involving 520 children, while the NCA is also seeing growing evidence of ‘abuse to order‘ – British men paying as little as $3 (£1.90) to observe sexual attacks streamed online from Asia.
‘Before, you had to go to a place such as Thailand,’ says Gormley. ‘Now you can sit at your computer and type commands for abuse.’
This is a horrendous concept: paedophiles picking out child victims from a line-up and ordering their abuse from the other side of the world.
It underlines how much investigatory work now focuses on the dark side of the digital world.
‘I don’t know if there is a massive increase in the number of people with a proclivity for child sex,’ says Gormley. ‘There used to be a physical connection for paedophilia but the internet allows people to pursue that interest without having to go into public spaces. It also normalises such behaviour because there are online communities of such men. And it facilitates an interest in a way that was not possible before.’
Before the internet arrived, paedophiles were found in possession of an average 150 images. Today there are 100 million child abuse pictures online and individuals may have hundreds of thousands downloaded. There could be a dozen digital devices in an offender’s house, each needing intricate examination with specialist software that can take six months to carry out.
Each picture is a potential crime scene. A new computer system was installed this year to co-ordinate examination of child abuse images, which will be linked to Interpol; the NCA alone will have 12 officials whose only job is to identify victims in these unsavoury images.
There are also big projects under way to find fresh ways to track paedophiles online, including using sophisticated software to warn children in chatrooms if there is an adult masquerading as a youngster.
Already if a person searches for up to 1,000-word combinations on Google a warning of illegality pops up with details of help available.
It was triggered a worrying three million times last year.
The NCA and police are also starting to spot possible abusers based on their online behaviour.
|The NCA is seeing growing evidence of ‘abuse to order‘ – British men paying|
as little as $3 (£1.90) to observe sexual attacks streamed online from Asia
‘Policing was not looking in these areas 15 years ago,’ says Gormley. ‘We are having to consider how we police the private space.’
The second is how can society in the current fearful climate offer help to men seeking to control their urge to sexually abuse children?
‘If all we have is arrest and incarceration that will not help them come forward,’ says Gormley.
‘If we can reduce the harm done to children by aiding people to recognise and control their urges that must be a good thing. But this is a very uncomfortable discussion for society.’
WHERE TO GET HELP ON CHILD PROTECTION
Information and advice is available for parents and carers on how to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation at the NCA website thinkuknow.co.uk.
If you have concerns a child has been sexually abused or exploited, even if you are unsure, it is important to seek help and support. If you have immediate concerns for a child’s safety call 999.
You can also report concerns to the NCA via the Safety Centre ceop.police.uk/safety-centre, or to local police by calling 101.
Advice is also available on inappropriate behaviour at the Stop It Now website, stopitnow.org.
Simon Bailey, the Association of Chief Police Officers spokesman on child protection, recently suggested ‘non-contact abusers’ – those solely viewing images online – might be treated by mental health specialists on the NHS.
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation in Birmingham offers counselling to potential molesters.
Donald Findlater, its research director, says: ‘Right now we have a strategy of waiting until a child is harmed and then we do something. We need to do something before children are harmed.’
The NSPCC agrees. John Brown, who heads the charity’s sexual abuse programme, says: ‘It’s not about being nice to paedophiles but about preventing child abuse.’
Most child abuse takes place within the family, but some offenders prowl for vulnerable victims or exploit positions of trust.
Last week the NSPCC issued a report revealing the number of children in the child protection system had risen 80 per cent in just over a decade to 570,800 – while it estimates that for every one child officially identified as ‘at risk’, eight more suffer abuse.
These are terrifying figures. Most victims were aged between 12 and 16, although more than one in four were younger.
A study by police chiefs into their caseload of child sexual abuse showed a rise in incidents from 66,120 in 2012 to a projected 113,291 cases in 2015. Historic cases have risen by 165 per cent.
Little wonder when I asked Gormley about the odds of living next door to a paedophile, he gave me a chilling response.
‘If these numbers are accurate the reality is that we are all living not far away from one.’