Police record 3,000 child abuse image crimes in five years

Children's charity NSPCC warns the figures are the 'tip of the iceberg'.

NSPCC calls for tough Online Safety Bill as Police Scotland record 3,000 child abuse images iStock

More than 3,100 child abuse image offences were recorded by Police Scotland in just five years.

Last year, 662 crimes including the sharing and possession of indecent images of children were recorded across Scotland.

Children’s charity NSPCC has repeated calls for a more robust Online Safety Bill, warning the figures were “the tip of the iceberg”.

It wants changes to the law to mean senior managers of social media sites are held criminally liable if children are exposed to preventable abuse.

It’s also calling for a statutory child safety advocate to give voice to children and sexual abuse victims.

The charity warned that unregulated social media was fuelling online child sexual abuse and behind every offence could be multiple child victims who are continually re-victimised as images are shared. 

Police Scotland crime data obtained from the Scottish Government website

Force/ Year2016/172017/182018/192019/202020/212021/22Total
Scotland6496585545846606623767

Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “These figures are alarming but reflect just the tip of the iceberg of what children are experiencing online.

“We hear from young people who feel powerless and let down as online sexual abuse risks becoming normalised for a generation of children.

“By creating a child safety advocate that stands up for children and families the UK Government can ensure the Online Safety Bill systemically prevents abuse.

“It would be inexcusable if in five years’ time we are still playing catch-up to pervasive abuse that has been allowed to proliferate on social media.”

Online Safety Bill amendments

The Online Safety Bill is making its way through parliament and aims to introduce major regulation to social media for the first time.

Rules would be brought in for social media sites and user-generated platforms to compel them to remove illegal material, with emphasis on protecting children from seeing harmful content.

Companies that break these rules would face large fines from the sector’s new regulator, Ofcom.

The NSPCC is seeking amendments to the Online Safety Bill 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 UK 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.

NSPCC analysis of data obtained by FOI from England and Wales police forces shows Snapchat is the social media site offenders use most to share child abuse images where platform data was provided.

The app, popular with teens, was used in 43% of instances. Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, which are all owned by Meta, were used in a third (33%) of instances where a site was flagged.

And for the first-time virtual reality environments and Oculus headsets, used to explore the Metaverse, were found to be involved in recorded child sexual abuse image crimes south of the border.

Platform data was not provided by Police Scotland.

Police Scotland have been contacted for comment.

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