THE BLOG

Is 'We Didn't Know' Enough?

06/09/2013 12:28 BST | Updated 05/11/2013 10:12 GMT

In recent months some of the most iconic British institutions such as the BBC and British Airways have been rocked by charges of child abuse levelled at employees.

The people who commit these crimes don't just live in some dark criminal underworld or exist only between the lines of the newsprint decrying their behaviour. Each of these individuals has, in some small or large way, been a part of a community. They are employees, tenants, hotel guests, customers at the coffee shop, spouses, siblings and even parents.

There is no malevolent smile, uneasy twitch or marker that allows us to easily identify abusers. In so many criminal cases their peers, family, co-workers could never have envisaged the outcome. "But he seemed completely normal", "She used to buy her coffee here", "We never guessed", "We didn't know".

What we do know is this: child abuse happens.

It is not something that just happens in other countries, in other companies, in other communities to our own. Child abuse is a societal problem and as a society we need to address it proactively. 'We didn't know' when what they really meant is that 'we didn't take steps to know' is no longer defensible.

But let's be grown up about this. We don't need more fear mongering or festering mistrust and suspicion of those in our communities. Checks on those working with children must be sensible - not punitive and excessive - charitable work should be allowed to continue unhindered and adults should never feel as if they cannot spend time with children. What we do need is to accept that the problem exists and do what we can to prevent it.

Child sexual abuse images and videos are nearly always a symptom of abuse. In many instances they are instrumental in building to the physical abuse of a child. As horrifying as this may be, the digital trail of this kind of content presents an opportunity to find and prevent abuse. By tracking the symptom, we can tackle the problem.

In our experience, users who are obsessed with this kind of content, store or access images, websites and videos whenever possible. Whether in a hotel room or at work, on smartphones, laptops or even work computers - as seen just last week with Darren Shearer at the BBC.

Companies need to do all they can to ensure they take realistic steps to know if their networks and devices are unwittingly supporting those who commit these crimes.

For example, if BA had alert systems on the networks employees used in airports, the kind of content and websites that Wood had been accessing may have triggered an earlier investigation.

BA didn't know, but is still being sued for this happening on its watch. Whilst no one would believe BA would have let this happen if it was aware of this, companies can still be liable if an employee does something illegal whilst on company time, using company assets or representing the company in some way.

Only by being proactive and accepting that this problem doesn't stop at the door of the business, can organisations help to protect communities, employees and also their brand.