Esther Addley, Guardian
Child exploitation campaigners have warned of a looming “social emergency” after a report by the NSPCC suggested more than half a million men in the UK may have viewed child sexual abuse images on the internet.
The new figures, based on a large-scale German study this year, are far higher than previous estimates. In 2013 it was suggested that around 50,000 UK-based individuals were involved in downloading and sharing abusive images of children. Last month police chiefs said they feared the number may have risen significantly since then, with one report putting it at up to 100,000.
The German study, which surveyed more than 8,700 men, found that 2.4% of respondents admitted looking at online images of child sexual abuse. Applying the figures to the male UK population, the NSPCC said, “would equate to an estimate that there may be between 450,000 and 590,000 males aged 18-89 in the UK who have at some point viewed and used child sexual abuse images.”
Peter Wanless, the NSPCC’s chief executive, said: “The sheer numbers of people viewing child sexual abuse images online must be addressed as a social emergency. It is two years since the government made it a national priority to rid the internet of these vile crimes against children, but today’s report reveals how horrifyingly prolific the problem remains.”
In the past five years, the charity notes, the number of police-recorded offences under obscene publications laws has more than doubled in all four of the UK nations, with a total of 8,745 crimes recorded last year.
“However, this data only tells us how many images have been found or offenders who have been caught – the true scale of the issue remains unknown,” the charity said.
Wanless said the NSPCC was calling for “a robust action plan to cut off the supply of child sexual abuse images in circulation and deter adults from seeking out child abuse online.”
He said the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which represents the internet industry, had removed tens of thousands of abusive websites, and he acknowledged the work of the National Crime Agency (NCA) in protecting a record number of victims. “But it is clear, from the scale of the problem, that we cannot ‘arrest our way out’ of this challenge,” he said.
The charity wants internet firms operating in the UK to sign up to a set of minimum standards, enforced by new regulatory powers, and is calling for an independent annual audit of the current system of voluntary self-regulation, to ensure it is as effective as possible in tackling the problem.
In addition, it is calling on the government to produce an annual report on the identification and removal of child abuse images accessed from within the UK.
Alan Wardle, head of policy for the NSPCC, said part of the challenge for agencies was the difficulty in establishing the scale of a crime that is both hidden and international in reach. “One of the trends we are seeing is that abuse can be ‘done to order’ and livestreamed from poorer parts of the world, and I think that is only going to get worse as the internet becomes a more globalised force.
“[The question has] got to be: how do we prevent this happening, how do we stop people getting these images online and sharing them? Particularly with the technology companies, there’s a big responsibility to ensure that this material is as difficult to find, to share, to access on the internet as it possibly can be.”
The Home Office welcomed the report, calling the viewing of child abuse images an “appalling crime” and saying it was committed to working with other agencies “to stamp out online child sexual exploitation”.
“The NCA has received additional funding of £10m for further specialist teams, enabling a near-doubling of their investigative capability, meaning more children being safeguarded,” a spokesman said, adding that the government had led international action on online child exploitation and worked with other countries, the internet industry and NGOs to develop a coordinated response.
A spokesperson for the IWF said the UK was already “the most hostile place in the world for hosting child sex abuse content. Our success in the UK is due to our unparalleled relationships with the internet industry. The internet is without geographical borders, so a truly global effort is what’s needed.”
That's a scary indictment of the rest of the western world where very few, if any, steps have been taken by governments to work with the industry to purge the internet of this great evil. Most western governments have their heads buried in the sand and seem to be happy that this, and child sex abuse in general, have not become political hot buttons. What a disgrace! Are politicians so utterly callous, or are they that stupid that they just don't know the scale of CSA in the world?
People we have to make child sex abuse a political hot potato. It has not even been mentioned once in the year and a half of presidential electioneering in the US even though it is easily the worst atrocity happening in society today.