Posted: Wed 22nd Feb 2023

Wales sees 43% increase in child abuse image crimes over 5 years, NSPCC urges action on Online Safety Bill

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Feb 22nd, 2023


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New data reveals a shocking 43% increase in child abuse image crimes in Wales over the last five years, according to an investigation by the NSPCC.

The data highlights a significant rise in the number of crimes involving the sharing and possession of indecent images of children, with over 30,000 such crimes taking place across the UK last year alone.

The figures, obtained from North Wales Police, South Wales Police, Dyfed-Powys Police, and Gwent Police, show that in the year 2022, a total of 2,061 crimes were recorded, compared to 1,437 crimes in 2017.

North Wales Police recorded 514 offences last year up from 287 offences in 2017.

The NSPCC warns that unregulated social media is fueling the scale of online child sexual abuse and that tech bosses are failing to stop their sites being used by offenders to organise, commit, and share child sexual abuse.

In addition, the charity is calling on the government to commit to a statutory child safety advocate in the upcoming Online Safety Bill, ensuring that children have a powerful voice and expert representation in future regulation to prioritise child protection.

As part of the investigation, Snapchat was found to be the social media site used in 43% of instances where the platform was flagged by police. Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, which are all owned by Meta, were used in a third of instances where a site was flagged.

For the first time, virtual reality environments and Oculus headsets were also found to be involved in recorded child sexual abuse image crimes.

The NSPCC believes that children are being groomed into sharing images of their own abuse, and it warns that behind every offense could be multiple child victims who are continually re-victimised as images are shared.

As such, the charity is urging the UK government to give children a powerful voice in future regulation, building safeguarding experience into regulation to prioritise child protection.

The NSPCC is also seeking amendments to the Online Safety Bill to improve its response to child sexual abuse, including the creation of a child safety advocate to mirror statutory user advocacy arrangements across other regulated sectors.

The charity is asking the House of Lords to back the amendments and give Ofcom access to children’s voices and experiences in real-time.

Sir Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, says that the new figures are incredibly alarming but reflect just the tip of the iceberg of what children are experiencing online. He adds that “by creating a child safety advocate that stands up for children and families, the government can ensure the Online Safety Bill systemically prevents abuse.”

Roxy Longworth was 13 when she was contacted by a boy four years older than her on Facebook who coerced her into sending images via Snapchat.

He sent the pictures to his friends which resulted in Roxy being blackmailed and manipulated into sending more images to another older boy who shared them via social media.

Roxy said: “I sat on the floor and cried. I’d lost all control and there was no one to talk to about it. I blocked him on everything and prayed he wouldn’t show anyone the pictures because of how young I was. 

“After that, I was just waiting to see what would happen. Eventually someone in my year sent me some of the pictures and that’s when I knew they were out.”

Online Safety Bill amendments 

The NSPCC is seeking amendments to the Online Safety Bill as it passes through the House of Lords to improve its response to child sexual abuse.

They are asking Lords to back the creation of a child safety advocate which would mirror statutory user advocacy arrangements that are effective across other regulated sectors. 

The amendment would give Ofcom access to children’s voices and experiences in real time via an expert child safety advocate akin to Citizen’s Advice acting for energy and postal consumers. 

And after the Government committed to holding senior managers liable if their products contribute to serious harm to children the charity says this must also include where sites put children at risk of sexual abuse.

The move would mean bosses responsible for child safety would be held criminally liable if their sites continue to expose children to preventable abuse – which is backed by an overwhelming majority of the public

Meta Encryption

In response to the latest data, the NSPCC also renewed calls on Meta to pause plans to roll out default end-to-end encryption of Facebook and Instagram messenger services in order to comply with future requirements of the Online Safety Bill.

They said Meta will turn a blind eye to child abuse by making it impossible to identify grooming and the sharing of images making the importance of external bodies such as a child safety advocate even more paramount. 

However, the charity said the Online Safety Bill should be seen as an opportunity to incentivise companies to invest in technological solutions to end-to-end encryption that protect adult privacy, the privacy of sexual abuse victims and keep children safe. 

 

 

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