THE BLOG

Why Were Child Abuse Images Off the Election Agenda?

07/05/2015 16:42 BST | Updated 07/05/2016 10:59 BST

Election fever has brought a rash of in-depth debates from all the political parties about various issues - the health service, affordable housing, non-doms, the economy. But none have even begun to scratch the surface of one of the most serious problems of our time. Child abuse images.

This is quite staggering when you consider two years ago the government declared war on this very subject.

Yet while the politicians have been busy door-knocking in their constituencies the criminal courts have continued to do a rapid business, dealing with sex offenders caught with stomach-churning images showing children, and even babies, being raped or subjected to other vile sexual assaults.

Just last week a man was convicted of possessing hundreds of such images involving children as young as two. And another, who was found guilty of sexually abusing a toddler, had more than 15,000 child abuse pictures.

A judge who sentenced in one of the cases commented that this kind of child abuse would continue 'so long as there are people like you sitting on computers in dark rooms.'

That doesn't have to be the case but as long as the election debates roll on without even acknowledging the existence of this problem let alone that it needs urgent action he may well be right.

Recently the Internet Watch Foundation revealed that the number of child abuse images it had managed to clear from the web last year had more than doubled. I imagine the enormous focus on the issue from Government, internet service providers and others on tackling this prolific and horrendous material played no small part in that achievement. But we can't escape the fact that nearly every day someone appears in a court in the UK accused of possessing or distributing these pictures.

So, why after the starting gun of the election race was fired did the focus on tackling these images that society finds so horrifying fall off the radar?

Most of the Electorate would surely express utter revulsion and intolerance of those who engage with these images. And yet we know that in 2012 at least 50,000 people viewed this material online. That's a huge number and we need to ensure that no matter where these images are hosted, whether in the UK or most likely abroad, the number of people that access them falls dramatically. Clearly while these people think they can get away with it unnoticed, they will do so.

We need strong enough disincentives and deterrents put in place so it's difficult to find these images which once were hidden in scarce, illegal magazines but now populate certain sections of the internet like a terrible disease.

We must ensure that people who previously would never have dreamed of looking at these images don't feel they can now do so with impunity, hidden by the cloak of the internet. There are some measures in place around preventative search terms and this is promising in terms of stopping 'casual' or first time users.

But what about the other more committed offenders? We need a concerted effort and coherent overarching strategy that will enable us to say the UK is the world leader when it comes to child safety online. A place where these crimes are punished and those who are risking arrest understand the catastrophic consequences of being uncovered.

During the election, there has of course been a nod to the question of children protection, but just a nod, by all parties. For example, there is an agreement on the need for a victims law, which after the appalling cases that have come to light in recent months I think we would all agree is the very least that is required. The Conservatives have promised all websites would have strict age verification controls on pornography sites which is to be welcomed. But beyond that there has been pretty much silence, unless you include Labour's commitment to mandatory reporting of abuse where details have yet to be determined.

We have seen the progress that can be made when there is real momentum but the key is to make sure that it continues and that the political agenda isn't allowed to move on, thinking 'what's next'.

From the start of the election campaign alone, on the 30 March, the NSPCC has had twelve contacts a day from children concerned about online child sexual abuse. That's nearly 100 A WEEK, whilst politicians have played Punch and Judy on our television screens.

So, surely it's time all the parties realised that while they continue their political knockabout children are being sexually assaulted and tortured to feed this disgusting trade. And to ignore that fact is surely the biggest vote-loser there can be.