THE BLOG

New Depths of Depravity in Online Child Abuse Images Utterly Shocking

14/03/2014 12:49 GMT | Updated 14/05/2014 10:59 BST

Government plans to use a central image database to identify abusers and their victims are welcome and with millions of these images already in circulation, there is no time to waste.

Reports that a growing number of young children are subject to perverse sexual abuse through online imagery are truly appalling.

According to the policing minister, Damian Green, online child abuse images are not only becoming more brutal, but content increasingly features younger children. Therefore, it is vital that government plans to use a central database that will hold abuse imagery safely and securely must go ahead quickly. The National Crime Agency (NCA), Child Exploitation and Online Protection Service (CEOP) and police authorities will welcome plans for a more streamlined system to help them tackle child sex abuse.

Last year, Google and Microsoft agreed to make changes to their search engines to make it harder for offenders to find child sex abuse images, through the blocking of search terms. While the internet has undoubtedly had a role to play in allowing paedophiles to upload and share images of abuse and gain access to children, banning search terms that could lead internet users to such imagery and chat rooms is simply not practical. The online paedophile community is much cleverer and more established than this. Paedophiles are used to operating within private networks and are skilled at navigating the internet while avoiding the use of search engines altogether.

Establishing a 'database' of child sex abuse images will at least increase the level of intelligence available to the police but more still needs to be done.

Child sex abuse in all its forms must be tackled in a joined up way, on and offline. Giving police authorities access to a central database of child abuse images will certainly help but all those responsible for the care of children - teachers, care home workers, police officers, social workers and judges - need to be more aware of such crimes and be trained in how to deal with them. Only by making child sex abuse a mainstream issue will we stand a chance of stamping it out and bringing those responsible to justice.

As things stand, the number of child sex abuse images in circulation is growing at an alarming rate, and much more needs to be done to protect victims and identify perpetrators. The database project must move forward swiftly in order to make a real difference to such a large-scale problem.

Jonathan Wheeler is a personal injury partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp and acts on behalf of victims of child abuse.