POLICE are urging parents to not allow children to be alone with devices after an increase of child abuse image crimes recorded across Dorset within the past five years.
Research from NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) reveal since 2016/17 there have been 1,154 child abuse image offences recorded by Dorset Police.
The figures, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the NSPCC show from 2020 to 2021 there were 212 child abuse image offences recorded across Dorset.
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In 2016/17 there were 185 offences recorded, 266 recorded in 2017/18, 265 recorded in 2018/19, 226 recorded in 2019/20 – which coupled with the figures from 2020/21 bring in a total of 1,154.
NSPCC Chief Executive, Sir Peter Wanless said: “The amount of child sexual abuse image offences is being fuelled by the ease with which offenders are able to groom children across social media to produce and share images on an industrial scale.
“The Government recognises the problem and has created a landmark opportunity with the Online Safety Bill.
“But the legislation needs strengthening in clear and specific ways if it is to fundamentally address the complex nature of online abuse and prevent children from coming to avoidable harm.”
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Across the south west, a total of 6,852 child abuse image crimes were recorded by police forces over five-year period.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve May, of Dorset Police’s Public Protection Unit, said: “Dorset Police is committed to ensuring we minimise the risk to children by proactively identifying people who use the internet to further their sexual interest in children.
“The Force’s Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT) works closely with other police forces, the National Crime Agency and other agencies inside and outside of the UK to identify offenders using the internet, including the dark net. We urge anyone to contact us directly or Crimestoppers if they suspect someone is using the internet to groom or gain indecent images of children.
“The Force has continued to strengthen its response and resource capability to deal with sexual offences against children, with more officers in dedicated teams such as Child Sexual Exploitation, Child Abuse Investigation Team and POLIT. Officers and staff receive specific training to ensure an awareness and understanding of these often complex crimes, which affect some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“Nationally, online child grooming offences have increased. This is as a result of more and more young people using social media, but also due to the police and other agencies becoming much better at identifying offenders.
“Many social media platforms work with the police and we regularly receive referrals directly from social media companies to investigate. However, educating young people on internet use is by far the best thing we as a society can do.
“Simple measures such as only allowing children to use devices online with a parent present and not allowing devices to be taken into the bathroom or bedroom would assist in preventing many of these offences.
“There are guides online that can assist parents and provide advice, such as regular checking of phones and devices and putting restrictions on applications that are downloaded to devices.”
Across the UK, 107,555 offences were recorded across the five years.
The NSPCC’s five-point plan lays out where the Online Safety Bill must be strengthened to:
- Disrupt well-established grooming pathways: The Bill fails to tackle the ways groomers commit abuse across platforms to produce new child abuse images. Offenders exploit the design features of social media sites to contact multiple children before moving them to risky livestreaming or encrypted sites. The Bill needs to be strengthened to require platforms to explicitly risk assess for cross platform harms.
- Tackle how offenders use social media to organise abuse: The Bill fails to address how abusers use social media as a shop window to advertise their sexual interest in children, make contact with other offenders and post digital breadcrumbs as a guide for them to find child abuse content. Recent whistle-blower testimony found Facebook groups were being used to facilitate child abuse and signpost to illegal material hosted on other sites.
- Put a duty on every social media platform to have a named manager responsible for children’s safety: To focus minds on child abuse every platform should be required to appoint a named person liable for preventing child abuse, with the threat of criminal sanctions for product decisions that put children in harm’s way.
- Give the regulator more effective powers to combat abuse in private messaging: Private messaging is the frontline of child abuse but the regulator needs clearer powers to take action against companies that don’t have a plan to tackle it. Companies should have to risk assess end-to-end encryption plans before they go ahead so the regulator is not left in the dark about abuse taking place in private messaging.
- Give children a funded voice to fight for their interests: Under current proposals for regulation children who have been abused will get less statutory protections than bus passengers or Post Office users. There needs to be provision for a statutory body to represent the interests of children, funded by an industry levy, in the Bill.