Thoughts on the report
Three things strike me in particular about the conclusions of this year’s report: the nature of the offender; the myth that images are becoming more violent and feature increasingly younger children; and the new trend showing that offenders now more frequently delete child sexual abuse material.
To eradicate child sexual abuse we need more resources, and, most importantly, they need to be applied in the right way. To identify the right resources, we need a thorough understanding of the problem of child sexual abuse, and we need to understand the technologies that are both driving the problem and presenting the solutions to it. Therefore, we have to face some of the truths about child sexual abuse, even though they might be uncomfortable. If we do not, we risk focusing on the wrong issues and investing in solutions that do not properly address the problem.
Offenders exist everywhere
Realising that offenders exist everywhere is perhaps one of the truths that is hard to acknowledge. Ten years ago it was established that most child sexual abuse is committed by someone in the family or close to the family. However, this perception is still not commonly held by most people, nor is it reported this way by media. Hence, when we talk about putting the right resources in place we need to focus on reported facts and not on ill-conceived stereotypes.
The myth that victims are getting younger and the crime more violent
Another myth to tackle is the idea that victims are getting younger, and crimes more violent. Police officers that we speak to all say the same thing: this crime cannot get any more violent nor the offenders any younger. They also highlight that focusing on that problem does not assist their investigations. Instead they argue that we must focus on identifying the children depicted in the images, and work to understand how offenders are using technology development to view and share child sexual abuse material. I am hopeful that this report will increase the debate around these issues.
“Deleters” bring on new challenges
Another important insight is that offenders increasingly delete child sexual abuse material rather than storing it to their hard-drive. Consequently, police officers need resources to invest in equipment and new ways of working. This means addressing the crime as and when images are being viewed or shared, and developing technology to find and stop sharing of images, and improve ways of blocking child sexual abuse material.
A perception that the problem is increasing
Two years ago I said that I hoped that this problem would increase. I did not mean that I hoped that the problem in reality would get worse, but that we would uncover the real scale of the problem as more resources were put in place. This is happening! We are uncovering more crimes and consequently finding and rescuing more children. Hopefully we will reach a point where we will see numbers start to fall, but in order to get there we have a lot of work to do.
“To eradicate child sexual abuse we need more resources, and, most importantly, they need to be applied in the right way. To identify the right resources, we need a thorough understanding of the problem of child sexual abuse, and we need to understand the technologies that are both driving the problem and presenting the solutions to it.”