This article originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper on 12th September 2018.
Last week Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, announced a new drive to battle online child sexual exploitation. New figures on this type of crime are deeply troubling, with The National Crime Agency estimating that around 80,000 people in the UK present some kind of sexual threat to children online and referrals increasing 700% since 2013.
Alongside this, the evolving nature of the threat is also worrying: increasingly graphic content; more frequent documentation of abuse of children under 10; children being groomed in less than 45 minutes; and a rise in live streaming of child sexual abuse. Offenders are using the open and dark web to perpetrate this abuse, and are employing increasingly sophisticated methods to evade detection.
The Government has invested significantly in law enforcement and intelligence to combat this, but it is clear that more needs to be done. Technology companies have a significant role to play in this, and the Home Secretary has called on them to block child sexual abuse material before it can be disseminated; stop child grooming taking place on their platforms; work with law enforcement to shut down live-streamed child abuse; be more forward leaning in helping law enforcement agencies and show a greater level of openness and transparency and a willingness to share best practice and technology amongst themselves.
£250,000 has also been made available to support new ideas on how to detect and disrupt live
streaming of abuse. A working group will also be set up with the advertising industry to look into how abuse websites can be stopped from generating a profit through advertising for legitimate companies without their knowledge.
An additional investment of £21.5 million in law enforcement and the UK intelligence community has also been announced, and an extra £2.6 million will go to child protection charities, with a focus on prevention. Relationship education in schools will also include teaching children about staying safe online.
The UK will also be stepping up international efforts, and the Home Secretary has announced a new international network of government advisers who will be stationed around the world and will help coordinate and drive action to tackle child sexual abuse in different regions. The Prime Minister has also announced that the UK will build a new cyber center in Nairobi to help Kenyan police stop child abuse images being shared online.
I am very pleased that the Home Secretary is taking this problem seriously and will be devoting a considerable amount of funding to it. A 700% increase in referrals to the National Crime Agency is deeply troubling, and it is vital that technology companies are also brought on board to prevent further crimes.