Facebook is one of the UK’s major online locations for child sex grooming, according to the head of Britain’s top child abuse investigating agency.
By Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent
3:47PM BST 15 Oct 2013
Peter Davies, chief executive of Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said that half of all child sexual exploitation takes place on social networks
British children were being “harvested” by foreign abusers who were getting access to children in their homes over the internet.
He told MPs in the House of Commons: “It is not uncommon to encounter situations where offenders in one country will target and harvest victims in a completely different part of the world.”
Mr Davies said that half of all online child sexual exploitation was taking place over social networks, and suggested they could do more to stop to abuse.
He said: “At the moment we are seeing half of this kind of activity, online child sexual exploitation, taking place through social networking site.
“But what is to blame is human behaviour, albeit through the internet amplified, multiplied and in some cases almost industrialised to a quite remarkable degree.”
Many offenders were from overseas. He added: “It is not uncommon to encounter situations where offenders in one country will target and harvest victims in a completely different part of the world.”
Mr Davies said there are an estimated “50,000 people in the UK who commit offences at least to a level of possessing indecent mages of children”.
On the images his team were viewing he said: “Victims are getting younger and younger and the level of abuse portrayed appears to be getting worse and worse.”
The MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport committee heard there are an estimated 300million sexual images of children circulating in the UK. One or two new images were being created and entering circulation every week.
Earlier campaigners had warned that people using the internet at home were just three clicks away from accessing illegal child abuse images.
John Carr, Secretary of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, said: “You can get pretty quickly to some of them.”
Some of the adult sites contained barely concealed code words where “just a couple of clicks through there you will find stuff that is not legal”. He added: “You need a little of determination but not a great deal.”
Mr Carr suggested that companies which ran adult sites should copy the gambling industry and use an “age verification system” to stop children seeing adult porn.
He said: “Companies who make pornography available should take steps to make sure that kids can’t access it. They should employ age verification.
“The British gambling industry has done it with tremendous success. There are technical tools available – they are not being used, they should be.”
Anthony Smythe, managing director of the campaign group Beatbullying, also said that cyber bullying should be made a criminal offence.
There is no a specific law which makes cyber-bullying illegal, although it can be considered a criminal offence under legislation such as the Protection from Harassment Act and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
Mr Smythe said: “A number of countries are having this debate – Australia and New Zealand are bringing in new legislation.
“Canada is about to bring in new legislation – Ireland is looking at it. There is an element that everyone is playing catch-up.
“I would like not only to see legislation around cyber-bullying but I would like legislation on bullying and cyber-bullying. A child will be bullied in the play ground and that will continue online, and we need to make that link.”
A Facebook spokesman said: “We fight hard against child sexual exploitation and grooming.
“People on Facebook have access to educational resources and powerful reporting tools so they can report inappropriate behaviour and get help in the unlikely event that they need it.
“We have a global team of hundreds of safety experts committed to protecting the people using Facebook – and are proud of the work we do in partnership with CEOP to bring offenders to justice.”
A National Crime Agency spokesman said: “There are many social networking sites and websites used by offenders to target children and young people. The NCA CEOP Command’s 2013 Threat Assessment on Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse highlighted that 48.5% of online child sexual exploitation reports received were linked to social networking sites, of which Facebook is only one.
“CEOP and Facebook has a strong working relationship. Facebook has put in place robust reporting mechanisms and works proactively to support investigations. We encourage all social networks to work as proactively to help us bring more offenders to justice and protect more children from abuse.
“However, it is not the environments but offender behaviour that we need to concentrate on. Children need to know how to stay safe on all social networks and we work closely with Facebook and others to ensure these messages reach children and their parents and carers.”
Comment: Again, to be expected.