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Child online sexual abuse report

Better collaboration between police and the online industry is desperately needed to protect children from online sexual abuse, says Middlesex University London in a report.

Their EU-funded report, Enhancing Police and Industry Practice, sought to explore for the first time the policing and industry practice in the prevention of online child sexual abuse and to find the experience of young people online, including victims. The report covers online child sexual abuse offending, indecent child image collection and grooming.

The two-year study includes a police survey across three EU countries (the UK, Italy and the Netherlands), a retrospective young person survey, interviews with self-referred young adults (across the UK, Italy and Ireland), case studies and interviews and a literature review. The research was carried out between September 2014 and May 2016.

The report points out that around 2.9 billion people – almost half (47 per cent) of the world’s current population – are now online. Protecting children and vulnerable people is likely to become more difficult and challenging, say the researchers; particularly when young people are more likely to be ‘tech savvy’ than their parents, teachers and the police.

Lead author, Prof Julia Davidson from Middlesex University London, said that “while the internet provides amazing opportunities for education, networking and communication it also poses a serious risk to some children and young people”. She said: “With technology evolving, young people’s knowledge of the internet is surpassing those of older generations there is a strong argument for technology industries and policing collaborating with other key stakeholders from education and health to develop a safer online environment for children.”

Findings from the police survey:

Most respondents (around seven in ten, 68.9pc) encountered a form of cybercrime during their service.
Around 60pc of police officers said they had investigated some form of online child sexual abuse.
Most (61.0pc) respondents did not receive any training concerning the investigation of online child sexual abuse.

Findings from the youth survey:

The vast majority of respondents ‘never’ had to deal with sexually explicit online requests however a minority (around 16pc) said they had received such requests ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’.
Of the youths who had been sexually solicited online, the UK sample came out highest with over half (53pc) saying that when they were between 12 and 16 years of age they were invited to act sexually online. This includes being asked for sexual information, a sexual photo/video or requested to meet up to engage in sexual activities.
All respondents were found to have engaged in some form of risky online behaviour (this could include giving personal information online, downloading pirated material, adding or accepting people online without ever meeting them, visiting pornographic sites, sharing photos/videos, meeting a peer face to face that they only knew online, meeting an adult face to face they only knew online). Some 65pc of respondents said their parents had ‘never’ blocked or filtered their internet access. Girls were more likely to be solicited by a stranger and also more likely to be approached by older men.

Co-author Jeffrey DeMarco added: “The internet provides a level of anonymity and invisibility which means that offenders can hide away by masking IP address and using proxy servers. Most young people access the internet through their tablet or mobile phones and this increase in the use of mobile technology brings with it many advantages, but also leaves young people vulnerable to offender approach. The police are often on the back foot as technology rapidly changes and by the time police have received training on one platform, another has been created. Offenders are able to develop techniques and use evolving technology to commit crime with the knowledge that many police forces do not have the training and resources to be able to identify every possible way of offending online.

“Law enforcers, politicians, teachers and parents have very complex challenges ahead if online child sexual abuse can be tackled effectively. We are hopeful that our extensive study can help guide the way in this area.”

Other findings from the research included:

An urgent need for increased collaboration between industry and the police – currently they often operate at odds with police wanting to prevent crime and industry seeking to protect privacy and improve their product.
The vast majority of young people ‘never’ had to deal with sexually explicit online requests but a significant minority did receive them between the ages of 12 and 16 years of age. With over half of UK respondents saying they had been solicited online, mainly from their peers.
It can be very challenging to investigate and prosecute online child sexual abuse as legal frameworks are different in many countries, ie the age of consent to sexual relations differs across the EU.
Law enforcement regularly encounter online child abuse cases, this was most marked in the UK.
More resources are needed for all police and the recommendations from specialist officers trained in online child sexual abuse investigations should be implemented.

Recommendations from the report included:

The development of systematic policing and industry collaboration.
Industry contribution in the forms of mentoring of specialist police officers, name industry points of contact for police forces, joint industry and law enforcement task forces.
Industry contribution to law enforcement training.
Clear shared international definitions of online child sexual abuse supported by an updated United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which includes cyber abuse.
Policy, legislation and practice must become more responsive and able to rapidly adapt to an evolving cyberspace.
The development of specialist training at a basic level for all rank and file officers and the enhancement of more advanced training for specialist officers.


Fernando Ruiz, Head of Operations at EC3, (European Cybercrime Centre) at Europol said: “Law enforcement will continue working with industry to educate against, prevent and investigate the many different abuses of children through online platforms. Europol is committed to such a partnership approach and building capacity through its training courses within the Member States and partner countries. These initiatives and ongoing efforts work to ensure that all law enforcement and industry recognize the importance and the benefits of cooperating to combat online child sexual abuse and exploitation.”

To access the full report:

About the research

Led by Professor Julia Davidson Middlesex University London, partners included Professor Mary Aiken at the Geary Institute for Social Policy, University College Dublin, Angelo Puccia at the FDE Institute of Criminology in Mantova, Professor Adriano Schimmenti, Kore University of Enna, Professor Vincenzo Caretti, LUMSA University Rome and Professor Stefan Bogaerts, Tilburg University.


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