Detective Superintendent Helen Flanagan said: “Officers have been working around the clock since the pandemic started using a variety of different tactics and resources to proactively identify and pursue online offenders and protect children and young people.
“Anyone who tries to find and/or distribute indecent images of children online should not think they will be less visible due to the lockdown – they can expect to come to police notice and face arrest, prosecution, a criminal record and possible prison time.
“Online offenders can consider themselves less harmful than ‘real life’ abusers as they hide behind a screen, but there is a vulnerable child at the heart of every indecent image or video and by viewing and distributing these, the abuse is repeated over and over again.”
Det Supt Flanagan stressed the number of reports officers receive of suspected child abuse has not increased.
But she said the force expects reports to rise in the coming months when people emerge from their homes after months on lockdown.
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Since schools were closed on March 20 millions of pupils have been homeschooled.
Children have been using online platforms to access lessons and keep in touch with their peers.
Det Supt Flanagan urged parents to speak to their children about how to spot the signs of abuse online.
She said: “Preventing offences occurring is always crucial and now more so than ever when there are masses of online traffic and potentially an elevated threat level.
“If you are a parent it’s never too early to start teaching your child how to stay safe online – talk to them about the dangers, make it your business to find out what they are doing online and don’t be afraid to ask questions or set boundaries.
“Be proactive about reviewing and setting safety features on devices at home – parental controls, age restrictions and monitoring features to give you oversight can all be quick effective tools to help protect the vulnerable.”
She said a change in behaviour could be a sign a child is experiencing some form of abuse online.
Child protection charity Lucy Faithfull has warned of an increase the use of porn sites since the lockdown began.
The charity’s chief executive Donald Findlater said consuming such explicit material has been known to lead people to abusing children.
Mr Findlater said: “We have seen an increase in the use of pornographic sites because of isolation measures and we know this can be a precursor for some men with addictions to move into illegal child abuse material.”