Live streaming of child sex abuse on the increase
Experts saw reports of indecent images and videos double on previous years
Child sexual abuse streamed live over the internet on services like Skype has been flagged as an emerging threat by experts.
An increasing number of offenders in 2012 were seen targeting vulnerable families overseas to set up live access to children over webcams in exchange for payment, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) has found.
In its annual threat assessment of child sexual exploitation and abuse, Ceop also warned that there are increased fears of child sexual abuse in Brazil as more visitors head there over the coming years for the World Cup and Olympic Games.
In 2012, Ceop received 8,000 reports of indecent images of children being shared, featuring a two-fold increase in the number of images and videos on previous years to 70,000.
Ceop chief executive Peter Davies said: “Our assessment shows that, sadly, there are still too many children at risk and too many people who would cause them serious harm. We should all practice zero tolerance to child sexual exploitation and abuse.”
Live streaming was identified as an emerging method of producing and distributing indecent images last year, the report said.
Sex offenders are targeting families and children in areas with extreme poverty, rising levels of access to the internet and poor child protection policies, the report said.
The centre also raised concerns about the use of the so-called hidden internet - heavily encrypted forums and pages that allow abusers to cover their tracks when accessing indecent images online.
UK daily users connecting to secret or encrypted networks increased by two thirds, one of the largest annual increases globally, the report said, with 20,000 daily UK users of such networks expected by the end of this year, although not all of these will use the hidden internet for criminal means.
Meanwhile, Ceop found that there has been a 70 per cent increase in the number of female victims under 10 years old.
The report comes shortly after after five members of a British seven-man sadistic paedophile ring found guilty of grooming vulnerable underage girls were given life sentences at the Old Bailey. Two other defendants were both jailed for seven years.
Ceop said that a number of offenders have been identified as targeting teenagers and young adults on the basis of their vulnerability rather than due to a specific sexual interest in children. These are known as “type one” offenders and crimes.
And figures from police forces show that the majority of type one offenders were categorised as Asian, and 97 per cent of type one offences involved white victims.
But figures from 25 police forces revealed 2,120 lone perpetrators and 31 forces reported 65 group or gang related offences.
An NSPCC spokeswoman said: “The evidence the NSPCC has gathered from all police forces in England and Wales shows there are around 20,000 sexual offences against children reported every year and many of the victims are under primary-school age.
“However, we believe this is far from the true situation as many cases are never revealed. And since the Savile sex crimes were revealed, our helpline has experienced an increase in the number of adults reporting cases which happened many years, even decades, earlier.
“While there are cases of children being sexually assaulted by strangers, the vast majority of these offences — around nine out of 10 — are committed by someone the child knows.
“It is crucial that our efforts to protect children from sexual abuse focus on deterrence and prevention and that our focus is the risk to children, both on and offline.”
Policing and criminal justice minister Damian Green said: “These figures are deeply troubling and show how our understanding of child sexual exploitation has greatly improved in recent years. Police are bringing more cases before the courts and significant sentences are being handed down to perpetrators.
“But more needs to be done. CEOP is doing excellent work and we will see its capability strengthened when it is transferred to the National Crime Agency later this year.
“I am leading a new Home Office group which is urgently looking at how we better identify those at risk, create a more victim-focused culture within the police, health and children’s services, improve data-sharing and address cultural barriers to uncovering abuse.
“Together, as communities, we need to ensure these sickening crimes no longer remain hidden.”
Javed Khan, chief executive of independent charity Victim Support, said: “It is sadly no surprise that the threat of child sexual abuse and exploitation is increasing in the UK.
“We know from recent high profile court cases, including in Oxford and Telford, that children and vulnerable adults remain at risk of extreme abuse, corruption and trafficking at the hands of a criminal underworld — creating what can only be described as modern day sexual slavery.
“But the police service must also ask itself some searching questions. It’s first priority is to prevent and detect crime.
“Yet the national threat assessment has had to fill gaps because of inconsistencies in the way forces collect, record and categorise child sex abuse offences.
“It is essential that every dot is joined-up if the most vulnerable in our society are to be protected. ”Every police force must therefore contribute fully and consistently to the national intelligence picture. Only then will we have a true picture of the scale of the problem.”