In Depth

UK child abuse: the shocking statistics revealed

Home Secretary Sajid Javid threatens to impose penalties over tech firms’ failure to remove ‘horrific’ images

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has warned that he will “not be afraid to take action” against tech giants if they fail to tackle child sexual abuse online, as new statistics reveal the growing scale of the problem. 

In a speech in London, Javid “declared that tackling the spiralling scale of online child abuse was his personal mission”, reports the London Evening Standard.

The minister said there was “overwhelming evidence” that abuse, including live-streamed footage, was continuing to appear online.

Criticising the response of internet firms as “nowhere near good enough”, Javid called on the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Twitter to use technology to block abuse images and prevent grooming taking place on their platforms, and to take a more pro-active approach in helping law enforcement bodies.

His speech, at the headquarters of the NSPCC, coincides with the release of the results of a survey by the charity, and new statistics from the National Crime Agency. The research found that:

  • Referrals of child abuse images have surged by 700% in the last five years
  • 80,000 people in the UK present some kind of sexual threat to children online
  • On average, one child in every primary school classroom in the UK has received nude or semi-nude image from an adult
  • One in 50 schoolchildren has sent a nude or semi-nude image to an adult

Such images are also getting more graphic, according to the Home Office, and abuse of babies and children under ten is becoming more frequently documented.

Javid vowed to prioritise efforts to crack down on online child sex abuse, building on an existing project that trawls the web to identify pages with suspected abuse content.

The announcement “follows the allegation last week by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt that Google is refusing to cooperate with the UK in removing illegal content”, says Sky News.

Without naming Google, the National Crime Agency (NCA) “has blamed technology companies for providing ‘encryption and increased anonymity on the internet’, which it suggests is enabling offending”, the news site adds.

Children who participated in the NSPCC survey were asked “whether an adult had ever sent or shown them a naked or semi-naked picture or video on an app, website or game”, reports HuffPost UK.

Among the responses, a girl aged ten said: “A complete stranger asked me to take my clothes off and send him a picture. When I deleted the game, I went on another site and the same person asked me to have sex with him, I told him to ‘back off’ and then deleted that game. I have seen this person on many sites that I play, and I decided to just block him.”

Others reported that the exchange of sexual images is becoming normalised. One pupil said: “A girl from my primary [was] sending half-naked pictures because it’s what everyone does.”

The NSPCC’s #WildWestWeb campaign is calling on the Government to create an independent regulator for social networks, to force platforms to proactively detect groomers using their sites.

Responding to the survey findings, the charity’s chief executive, Peter Wanless, said: “Grooming can no longer be shrugged off as secondary to other online crimes. It is happening now, it is happening to very young children, it is happening so frequently that it’s becoming normalised, and it is not only coming from adult strangers, but also from known adults. Social networks have become a gateway for child abuse.”

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