Child abuse image offences in UK have soared, NSPCC report shows | Internet safety

Police have recorded a rise in child abuse image crimes in the UK, with more than 30,000 reported in the most recent year, according to a report by the NSPCC.

This is an increase of more than 66% from figures from five years ago, when police forces across the country recorded 18,574 such offenses.

The charity warned the rise was partly due to the ‘pervasive’ problem of young people trained in image sharing of their own abuse, with tech companies failing to prevent their sites from being used by offenders to “organise, commit and share child sexual abuse”.

But better police registration, greater awareness of abuse and survivors feeling more confident to come forward may also contribute to higher numbers of recorded crimes, the NSPCC added.

“These new figures are incredibly alarming but only reflect the tip of the iceberg of what children experience online,” said NSPCC Chief Executive Sir Peter Wanless.

“We hear from young people who feel helpless and abandoned as online sexual abuse risks becoming normalized for a generation of children.”

In cases where a social network or gaming site was registered alongside the breach, only two companies were responsible for more than three-quarters of the reports: Snapchat, with more than 4,000 incidents, and Meta, whose three apps lighthouses – Facebook, instagram and WhatsApp – were mentioned in more than 3,000 incidents. The company’s Oculus “metaverse” brand was mentioned in one report, with virtual reality more commonly mentioned seven times.

The experience of teenager Roxy Longworth shows how tackling the problem can require coordination between rival companies. She was 13 when contacted Facebook by a boy four years her senior, who forced her to send images via Snapchat. He forwarded the photos to his friends, and a pattern of blackmail and manipulation coerced Roxy into sending yet more photos to another boy, which were then shared publicly on social media.

“I sat on the floor and cried,” Roxy said. “I had lost all control and there was no one to talk to about it. I blocked him on everything and prayed he wouldn’t show the pictures to anyone, because of my young age.

“After that, I was just waiting to see what would happen. Eventually someone in my year sent me some of the pictures and that’s when I knew they were out.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Meta said: “This horrible content is banned on our apps, and we report cases of child sexual exploitation to [the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children].

“We lead the industry in developing and using technology to prevent and remove this content, and we are working with law enforcement, child safety experts and industry partners to resolve this. societal issue. Our work in this area is never done, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep this content out of our apps.

Jacqueline Beauchère, Global Head of Platform Security at Snapchat, said: “All sexual abuse of children is heinous and illegal. We have dedicated teams around the world working closely with law enforcement, experts and industry partners to fight it. When we proactively detect or become aware of any sexual content that exploits minors, we immediately remove it, delete the account and report the offender to the authorities. Snapchat has additional protections in place that make it harder for young users to be discovered and contacted by strangers.

The NSPCC, which has compiled figures from freedom of information requests sent to police forces across the UK, says the data demonstrates the need to include a ‘child safety advocate’ in the next iteration of online security bill when he returned to parliament.

The proposal would give the lawyer the power to intervene directly with Ofcom, the internet regulator, on behalf of children online, “to ensure an appropriate counterbalance against well-funded industry interventions”, says the NSPCC.

“By creating a Child Safety Advocate who stands up for children and families, the government can ensure the Online Safety Bill consistently prevents abuse,” Wanless added. “It would be inexcusable if five years from now we continue to catch up with the widespread abuse that has been allowed to proliferate on social media.”

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