NCA intelligence reveals 300,000 in UK pose sexual threat to children

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned there could be a rise in online child sexual abuse offences during the Covid-19 pandemic, with its latest assessment showing there are at least 300,000 people in the UK posing a sexual threat to children.

Apr 3, 2020
By Paul Jacques
Chief Constable Simon Bailey

The NCA says the figure – which comes from intelligence pre-dating the coronavirus outbreak – is based on its “developing understanding” of the crime from a variety of sources.

It believes there are a minimum 300,000 individuals in the UK posing a sexual threat to children, either through physical ‘contact’ abuse or online.

The figure is from the NCA’s latest national strategic assessment, and such is the prevalence of online abuse, its investigators were able to find child sexual abuse content on the open web in just three clicks.

The NCA revealed it also knows from online chat that offenders are discussing opportunities to abuse children during the Covid-19 crisis.

National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, said: “It is sickening to think that some criminals are looking to exploit the coronavirus crisis to cause harm online. Despite the issues that the pandemic will cause for law enforcement, child protection is still a priority and we remain totally committed to keeping our young people safe.”

With children spending more time online to do school work or occupy themselves while parents and carers are busy, the NCA says they face an increased threat from offenders who are also online in greater numbers.

Since schools closed because of coronavirus, the number of child safety concerns reported through the Child Exploitation and Online Protection command (CEOP) website has stayed largely the same. And while there has been decreased reporting from professionals, such as teachers and social workers, the level of reports from children has remained stable, said the NCA.

The NCA said it works with UK policing to “relentlessly fight the online child sexual abuse threat, arresting more than 500 child sex offenders and safeguarding around 700 children each month”.

Rob Jones, NCA director of threat leadership, said: “Child sexual abuse remains a priority threat for the agency at this difficult time. “Though we are working around the virus like everyone else, we are continuing to pursue high-risk online offenders to ensure they are arrested and children are safeguarded.

“Preventing offences occurring is always crucial and now more so than ever when there is masses of online traffic and a possible elevated threat to children. We are redoubling our efforts to promote our online safety messages to children, parents, carers and teachers and are working with partners to keep children safe. We have long said that we want the tech industry to do more to protect children.”

Mr Bailey added: “Our joint work with the NCA means we have better intelligence and are arresting more sex offenders than ever before. We will maintain a focus on those who are intent on causing harm to young people and we will strive to bring them to justice. I am also continuing the important work with tech companies to make sure they are playing their part to make the internet as safe as possible.

“Equally as important as police action is making sure children have all the information and tools they need to keep themselves safe online.”

The NCA is launching a new #OnlineSafetyAtHome campaign through its education team at CEOP. A host of informative, educational products aimed at children of all ages, parents, carers and teachers will be issued through the NCA’s Thinkuknow website and social media channels, which can be incorporated into home schooling.

The NCA is also releasing Covid-19 specific content through Parent Info, a news feed and website it runs with digital family experts Parent Zone.

Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline, which offers confidential advice to anyone concerned about their own or someone else’s behaviour towards children, said: “In this time of serious worries due to coronavirus, it’s important that every parent and grandparent is aware of the support available to help them keep children safe. So as families try to keep education going, these engaging online safety resources are a great idea.

“With normal life so different for all of us, parents are more than ever at the forefront of keeping their children safe online and offline, and knowing where to get help and support is vital. Every day our confidential Stop It Now! helpline talks to parents worried about how to keep their children safe – and we talk to parents worrying about their own children’s sexual behaviour.

“Our helpline also talks to adults concerned about their sexual thoughts, helping them manage these so that children are safe. Some people who pose an online or offline risk to children will be struggling with their sexual thoughts or behaviour and need help to manage them. Right now, in this isolation we all experience, it is important that they get help, too. Providing that help keeps children safer.”

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