People using the internet to abuse children have been warned that they will be caught, with police revealing that the work of covert online officers has led to more than 1,300 arrests in England and Wales over the past year.
Between April 2021 and March 2022, police officers working to catch those who commit sexual offences against children online have made 1,362 arrests, safeguarded 1,400 children, and secured jail sentences totalling more than 1,130 years.
Offenders ranged from those who had viewed or shared indecent images online to those who had encouraged children to send them indecent images online, as well as those who groomed children via online sites and then arranged to meet them so that they could sexually abuse them.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Online Child Sexual Exploitation, Assistant Chief Constable Dan Vajzovic, said: “Thanks to the fantastic work of covert officers across the country, a significant number of children have been safeguarded and dangerous child abusers have been locked behind bars.
“We hope these statistics send a loud and clear message to others who may be tempted to commit these types of offences.
“Many of the offenders we catch online attempt to justify their actions as less harmful than in ‘real life’. This is simply not the case, as we see time and again offenders who are moving between online and real world offending. All child abuse is illegal, causes serious harm to real victims, and will have severe consequences for you as an offender.
“We have officers working around the clock across all areas of the internet to catch those who are seeking to use it as a gateway to abuse children.”
Police regularly work closely with partner agencies to help prevent those people who are on the cusp of offending from taking the next step.
Recent convictions include a man jailed for four and a half years for arranging or facilitating commission of a child sex offence and distributing indecent photographs of children, after he drove 145 miles from his home, where he believed he was meeting the girl and her mother.
Another man was recently jailed for three years after he pleaded guilty to attempting to arrange the commission of a child sex offence. He communicated online and via email with someone he believed was the mother of a young girl. He discussed his sexual interest, before making arrangements to meet the woman’s child, with the intention of sexually abusing her. During these investigations, there was never a real life victim and no children were ever in any danger.
Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, Donald Findlater, said: “Mostly, the tens of thousands of people in the UK viewing sexual images of children online don’t conform to the stereotypes – they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
“Many of the people contacting our helpline started out simply looking on mainstream adult pornography sites, but over time they found they needed different or more extreme content. Some don’t know the law and need it spelling out. A few are struggling with a long-standing sexual interest in children and think that looking at ‘only pictures’ is a way of managing that interest.
“Everyone needs to know that looking at sexual images and videos of under 18s is illegal; that children are harmed by it; that serious consequences await those involved in it; but that our helpline and website give anonymous, and confidential support and advice to stop and stay stopped.”
If you have concerns that someone you know is being abused on the internet, or is using the internet to abuse children, please report your concerns immediately to your local police force on 101.
You can also visit www.stopitnow.org.uk for further advice, including if you are concerned for children or young people.
If you become aware of indecent images of children, you can report this to your local police force and/or to the Internet Watch Foundation: IWF - Welcome to the IWF