THE BLOG

Understanding Paedophilia is First Step to Tackling Child Abuse

11/09/2013 12:25 BST | Updated 11/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Calls for more research into what makes predatory paedophiles tick should be heeded if David Cameron is serious about tackling the issue of child abuse.

Former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Service (CEOP), Jim Gamble, has correctly pointed out that Cameron's demand that internet companies take action to block images of abuse online demonstrates a 'fundamental lack of understanding' about paedophiles and how they operate.

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.

In the meantime, data suggests that paedophilia is a growing problem. Figures from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre show that there has been a marked rise in the number of paedophilia-related arrests based on intelligence gathered by the police - up from 83 arrests in 2006/07 to 513 in 2010/11.

Despite its best intentions, it is clear that Cameron's campaign to use internet companies to block images of abuse will not work. Instead the Government will need to try harder. More resources should be given to organisations like the Internet Watch Foundation and CEOP to carry out their work in helping to uncover paedophiles online. Investment in education for children and parents may also be needed to help them to understand the risks and prevent abuse from happening.

The Government should also consider measures to curtail the growing political and financial reach of the porn industry, which has managed to 'normalise' and popularise increasingly extreme images and make them part of our culture. Such images are influencing the behaviour of young people and adults in our society and are widely considered to be driving the rise of paedophilia.

On a mainstream level, it may be necessary to go further still. Perhaps the Government should challenge the media to consider the way it presents and sexualises youth or force the Advertising Standards Authority to take a stand. It could even call for the music and fashion industries to rethink the impact of the content and imagery they produce for others to follow. And, as suggested by Gamble, better research into how paedophiles operate will ensure that these resources are directed effectively.

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