(CNS): The RCIPS is facing a rapid increase in crimes committed on technology platforms that can have a “devastating impact” on the victims. In a recent media roundtable, senior officers and a specialist police policy adviser explained that the RCIPS had reformed the Family Support Unit to deal with vulnerable groups and the changing criminal landscape. This includes sex offences committed online, such as sexting and sextortion linked to indecent images shared on social media.
The RCIPS has created a Protective Services Unit that will be focused on new types of offending and more vulnerable victims, such as the elderly and disabled as well as young people who are online and therefore exposed to the evolution of modern technology-based crimes.
Simon Mason, a senior police adviser with a specialist background in protecting children, told the press that the goal of forming the new protective services was to help determine which specialists are needed as police deal with more complex safeguarding issues in a changing world.
Mason explained that the new unit will cover a broad range of offenders and victims and will take a proactive prevention-led approach, as he explained the type of crimes police are dealing with due to the technology as well as increased awareness of specific vulnerable groups. The growing awareness of the need to protect people from gender violence and violence caused by prejudice, as well as the new digital challenges that are emerging, are changing the face of policing.
He said the current generation of teenagers is the first to grow up with social media and the widespread use of smartphones. As a result, it is not uncommon for them to share naked or sexual images of each other when they are in a relationship. But when that breaks down and one of them shares those images with friends on social media, the consequences for the victim are almost unbearable.
“The devastation that has on victims, the way that plays out on victims is quite off the scale,” Mason said. Explaining the balance that the police try to achieve, he said, “Do we want to criminalise a whole section of society of young people… or is that a symptom of the circumstance of contemporary modern-day internet use?”
The police can seize and analyse the phone being used and deal with that, he said, but defining the offence is difficult when it’s between two teens, and the goal of the new unit is to step into these situations and prevent further harm and avoid prosecutions of possible.
Mason said that if the victim is under 16, the one sending the image can be prosecuted under the child pornography legislation and face significant jail time. However, he queried if that was the solution because preventing it from happening in the first place is far better.
Further complicating matters, as noted in a recent press release, the RCIPS is seeing a specific increase in “sextortion”, which relates to the practice of trying to extort money or sexual favours from someone by threatening to reveal evidence of their sexual behaviour or circulating nude images.
In some cases, strangers have manipulated people into sending images. They then threaten to release them to the victim’s family, work colleagues or contacts on social media and demand payment in exchange for not sharing the images.
The RCIPS said people should “never share indecent images” of themselves online. “Once these images are released, they are out of your control and can be freely shared on the internet,” officers have warned.
Adults, teens and even children can be victims of sextortion, but kids online are especially vulnerable to sex offenders and the evolving ways they seek to groom them. The police encouraged parents to educate themselves about their children’s online behaviour, as sex offenders use a variety of ways to manipulate children using online video games and many other avenues.
The internet poses risks that parents are often completely unaware of, and in the modern environment, it is critical that parents understand how their children can become victims to strangers online as well as much closer to home.
Anyone who finds themselves a victim of digital crime should not pay a ransom. They should delete all accounts that are linked to the perpetrators and contact the police at RCIPSDFH@rcips.ky.