22/07/2013 13:26 BST | Updated 21/09/2013 06:12 BST

David Cameron Has Drawn a Line in the Sand - We Must All Now Play Our Part


We all vividly remember those adverts from our childhood about not getting into cars with strangers, or taking sweets off strange men or wandering off on our own. But the risks children face today are very different; child abuse has gone digital.

The internet has evolved with strong libertarian principles with a big emphasis on self-regulation. And that is great; it is a tool for good and I believe on the whole it has brought far more benefits to the lives of children and young people than problems.

But the tide of child abuse imagery is now completely out of control. In 1990, the Police estimated that there were around 7,000 hard copies of child abuse images in circulation in the UK. But in the last two years just five forces who recorded data confiscated 26million images. Even a conservative estimate would say that well over 100million are confiscated a year across the UK in total and the numbers in circulation will be much, much higher. It's not unusual for computers to be found with over one million images on them. Furthermore, agencies like CEOP have noted both an increase in their severity and a significant decline in the ages of the children involved. It's no exaggeration to say we are at a crisis point.

Firstly, I have to say the Prime Minister has taken a very brave step, not just because he is taking on a problem that belongs to a multi-trillion pound industry that has changed the planet forever. But because he is saying that whilst he doesn't have every single answer to the technological problems he is not prepared to wait until he does. Like me he is saying that this industry can solve all manner of problems when there is cash to be made, and it's now time they invested just a fraction of their incredible intellect, energy and resources into solving this problem. It's not much to ask. Football teams contribute towards policing and crowd control, pubs and off licenses demand ID when selling alcohol, nightclubs eject violent or abusive patrons. Just like the off line world, the online industry has to play its part too. And as Mr Cameron said, the online world is the real world.

But we also need the public to play their part. The Internet Watch Foundation says that 1.5 million people in the UK stumbled across a child abuse image last year but just 40,000 reported it. That's less than 3%. It's understandable. People panic. People just want to get away from the page as soon as possible. Some people may be embarrassed as they were looking at adult porn at the time. But if we are to take these images down we need people to report them straight away. You could save a child from abuse.

And we have to be alive to the fact that this is not a victimless crime. Real children are abused to make these images and viewing them encourages this. We know from our research that between a third and half of men who view these images have also committed other sexual crimes against children. They allow them to indulge their fantasies and normalise their warped urges which can lead them to take the next step. Rather than just issuing a caution or short prison sentence for these offences we must get tough and also ensure therapy is given to make them see the error of their ways, the impact of what they have done and stop them simply reoffending. We need to take steps to make sure our children are safe from people convicted of the awful crimes. We can nip problems in the bud and save children from abuse if we act early.

The second issue David Cameron addressed today is linked to the first in that it's another a symptom of the Wild West approach to the internet. But it's a very different issue and we must not confuse the two as some have. This is about children and young people viewing adult pornography. This is legal pornography that over 18s can view as they choose (whatever your views are on that are) but it is being viewed by under 18s. This is something children have been telling us about for some time through ChildLine and focus groups. Many describe it as rife even as the 'norm'. One teenage boy said pornography was so easy to access he found it 'mundane' and had moved to self-generated pornography instead. These videos, often extreme, violent and degrading, warp young people's views of sex and relationships before they've even started having them. This can impact on their attitudes to the opposite sex or what they believe is acceptable behaviour. We hear from girls saying they have been coerced, blackmailed or even forced into mimicking porn videos. And boys who are bullied for not wanting to get involved.

The Prime Minister has agreed with ISPs to introduce an 'active choice plus' system which will set child safe filters on internet access unless an adult says otherwise. This is important as most people setting up new internet settings are in a hurry and don't really understand the various options. He also announced plans to block adult videos from public wi-fi and for all mobile phones to arrive with child safe settings already on.

However, and David Cameron to his credit was clear about this, none of these steps are a panacea and nothing is ever 100% fool proof. We must speak to our children about the dangers of viewing online pornography, and in some cases, producing their own self-generated images and videos. These measures will only work as part of a concerted effort from everyone: industry, government, charities, parents and young people themselves.

David Cameron has drawn the line in the sand, all of us must now join in to tackle this problem once and for all.