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Law enforcement ‘overwhelmed’ by online child abuse cases

A UK police chief has said that law enforcement agencies are “overwhelmed” with child abuse cases online, and called for big tech firms to accept more responsibility for the issue.

Simon Bailey, who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child safety, warned that paedophiles were using popular social media sites to try and groom and abuse children.

“Without them the abuse wouldn’t be able to take place…I hold them responsible,” he said.

The last year has been particularly difficult for children, with figures showing that the number of reported incidents of children dying or being seriously harmed after suspected abuse or neglect rose by a quarter after England’s first coronavirus lockdown. In November, the NSPCC said the coronavirus pandemic has created a “perfect storm” for online child abuse with cases rising rapidly since March.

Bailey accused tech giants such as Facebook of “not doing enough” to prevent the uploading, sharing and viewing of child abuse images: “It’s the big market leaders that actually bear responsibility for making sure the internet is a safe place for our children and for our grandchildren to go. And ultimately at this moment in time it’s not safe.”

He added that the “staggering increase” in indecent images of children, from 7,000 in 1990 to 17 million on the child abuse image database now, was due to the development of the internet and the ability of anyone to take and share pictures from smartphones. Some 44 per cent of indecent images have been found to be made by the children themselves, with 11 to 13-year-old girls most likely to upload and share pictures and videos.

“I could describe to you some of the most horrific videos where you can see a child that’s been groomed, abusing themselves within their own bedroom and you can hear their mother calling up and recorded on the video, “darling, dinner’s nearly ready”,” said Bailey. “Now that is pretty horrific, I think, in anybody’s estimation.”

Last year the National Crime Agency warned there are at least 300,000 people in the UK posing a sexual threat to children.

In December, the Children’s Commissioner for England warned that the introduction of end-to-end encryption on messaging platforms has made it more difficult for law enforcement to track down and apprehend those suspected of carrying out child abuse.

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