PERPETRATORS of online child sexual abuse are to be targeted by police in a new hard-hitting campaign.
The crackdown will be launched tomorrow with the warning that offenders are “just one click away from losing everything”.
It follows an investigation by Police Scotland that showed almost one-quarter (23 per cent) of registered sex offenders had committed online sexual abuse of children.
Police are also worried by an apparent increase in crimes that include possession and sharing of indecent images of children, live streaming of abuse, online or webcam sexual extortion and grooming for sexual purposes.
The new campaign will not only make it clear there are serious consequences for those who carry out online sexual abuse, but will also – under the hashtag #NotMyFriend – encourage children to be wary of those who may be attempting to groom them.
“We want to speak directly to perpetrators to make it clear that with the click of a mouse, they risk losing everything,” said Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald. “Any form of online child sexual abuse is a serious criminal offence. The internet does not provide anon- ymity – there is no hiding place.”
Police Scotland’s first national operation to tackle online child sexual abuse resulted in the identification of more than 500 children aged between three and 18 who were either victims or potential victims of online predators, as well as the recovery of 30 million images of abuse.
The NSPCC’s Childline service has also highlighted a 250 per cent rise in calls from young people about online abuse. This has occurred in tandem with a rapid increase in the use of technology in sexual abuse of young people seen over the past decade.
The new Police Scotland campaign features images of children with the words: “Thinking of sexually abusing children like me online? You’re one click away from losing everything.”
Those who look at online images of child sexual abuse often convince themselves they are doing nothing wrong, but MacDonald pointed out that it is not a victimless crime as young people and children around the world are suffering as a result. She said: “Every single image shared of child sexual abuse has come from a child somewhere in the world that’s been abused to obtain that image, so it is in no way a victimless crime. I see the sharing of images as being absolutely as serious as the abuse itself.”
Speaking anonymously, one perpetrator who accessed indecent images urged others to seek help before any crime was committed. He said: “A couple of days before my birthday, at around eight in the morning, the result of not reaching out for help came to visit me in the shape of the Police Scotland cyber crime team. My life changed completely in an instant.
“I wish I had made that change for myself, I wish I had seen not just the harm these images had done to the very real people in them – or the very real harm they were doing to me personally – but also the harm to relationships with family and friends.”
Perpetrators or adults concerned about their sexual thoughts with regard to children are encouraged to seek help. Police Scotland is publicising a confidential helpline designed for adults who think they might have a problem. Online child sexual abuse prevention organisation Stop It Now! can be contacted on 0131 556 3535.
Support for children is available through Child Exploitation and Online Protection command and other organisations.