Last week, the NSPCC released its annual 'How safe are our children? 2016' report. The report suggests that the Internet used in eight cases of child sex abuse every day. However, we feel that this latest number from the NSPCC is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual volume of child sexual abuse cases that have occurred online and go unreported to the police.
The truth is we are largely in the dark about just how bad the problem is. The significant challenge is that policing the Internet for instances of child sexual abuse is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The use of anonymisation technologies mean perpetrators can commit crimes with little trace or trail. In fact, often it is not until a victim comes forward, that the problem gains the attention it needs.
This latest NSPCC report is a great reminder that we have a collective duty to prioritise finding this content and identifying victims. Yet, it is important to remember that we must not demonise the Internet. While it can provide a gateway for criminals to go undetected, the introduction of mandatory 'cyber-flags' is a positive development in keeping track of online crimes. In addition, the Internet is a tool that can provide an avenue for perpetrators to seek help and a way for us to educate children and young adults on the safe, responsible use of digital technology.
Despite our best efforts to block and remove material, as one image is taken down it is probably spreading on some other platform, or new material is uploaded. Therefore blocking images, however important and useful, is not enough. Proactively seeking out this kind of content is a vital step in identifying victims and stopping abusers. In fact, by searching for material we are likely to help the police pinpoint perpetrators of grooming, who are actively involved in live streaming but also collect material that is already known to the police. A big part of this fight means pooling our resources and putting on a united front.
We can only hope that this report will highlight the role both public and private sector organisations can play, by better protecting their networks and recognising that child sexual abuse is not a taboo topic, but one that must be addressed proactively. After all, one single image or video can be the missing puzzle piece that leads to the victim being saved.