The Internet has led to a massive increase in portrayals of child abuse.
The latest figures show that fifteen times as many people were found in possession of pornographic images as was the case in 1988.
The problem is going to get worse, campaigners say, as third generation mobile phones make it much harder to track the dissemination and receipt of exploitative images.
Jeremy Paxman discussed what can be done to stop the internet fuelling child abuse with a member of the National Crime Squad and a sexual crime consultant.
I am joined by Assistant Chief Constable Jim Gamble of the National Crime Squad, and Ray Wyre, who has spent most of your life, I would guess, working with child sex offenders. Whenever you hear these things, you think, "What is happening in the society?" Are we right in thinking the figures suggest there are more users of child pornography about and more child abusers about?
SEXUAL CRIME CONSULTANT:
Certainly, I believe there are some offenders who would never have looked at child pornography, who are now, because of the internet. Three months ago, I assessed a man who was very honest about how he had been into pornography, how he had accessed the teen sex sites which were all legal, but how he then moved away from the commercial sites into news groups, into chat-rooms, then began to obtain illegal child pornography. What was, for him, interesting was that curiosity, excitement, anticipation - he came to be addicted by wondering what was the next picture tied in with risk-taking. So, in a sense, he didn't know what he was going to see until he saw it. He knew it would be child pornography, but he became addicted to that anticipation and excitement. I don't believe we have done enough with regard to talking about how the internet can lead people down that road, hence why he said it was like pornography to prison, and in fact he went to prison in December last year. He talks about that journey, so I am sure there are some people who, because of the internet, are able to access illegal material, and they wouldn't have gone into a shop, for example, and bought a magazine under the counter.
Given that the internet makes this, as it were, secretly, or apparently secretly and privately available to those who may have that weakness, do you guys feel that you are in any sense on top of the problem?
ASST CHIEF CONSTABLE JIM GAMBLE:
NATIONAL CRIME SQUAD:
We are not on top of the problem, but we are a lot closer to the top than we were in 1998. In 1998 when Operation Ore was alive, the website, people did believe they could go into their bedroom and be anonymous and do whatever they wanted on the internet and never be held to account. Four or five years, the vast majority of the 6,000-plus people online realised they were going to be held to account and there were consequences for those actions. We have to learn from the mistakes at the beginning of Operation Ore. We have to look at the content of John Carr's excellent report. It tells us more about the nature of the criminal and criminology than anything in the past. How we progress from that is how we undermine the potential for this type of danger in the future.
Do you get the impression that people are being frightened off?
There is no doubt that some are very aware that the police are getting more sophisticated. Always what's a surprise to me is that we get surprised that technology affects crime. Ever since the Polaroid was introduced, it had an immediate impact on the development of child pornography. The internet, we knew where it would go to. We are now talking about phones. One of the big worries is the new box that will allow you to access the internet through your television but there won't be a computer, and therefore the problems of being able to prove what a person did, because there will be no audit trail, will be an increasing problem, unless the technical developers with the police begin to put safeguards around and say, "If you do this, we will see that you are doing it." That's why this must be tackled at many different levels, from internet service providers to hardware changes to sting operations. It's a multi-faceted approach we need in dealing with this.
Are you getting the co-operation that you need from internet service providers, mobile phone companies and the like?
ASST CHIEF CONSTABLE JIM GAMBLE:
We are getting co-operation from them. The vast majority want to behave ethically. Could they do more? Yes, I think they could. Could we work in a more collaborative sense? I think we could. Let's not become seduced by the technology here. This is about an old crime being committed in a new way. The traditional policing methodologies that we are introducing to this public place that is the internet will undermine the confidence of the perpetrator, in the same way as if there are two deviants in St James's Park tonight. It's about putting policing resources in there and working with other statutory agencies to make hostile environments for those who would commit those offences.
Is this being seen as more hostile?
I think the very fact we are arresting more people and are letting people know that, if you do this, you are going to be caught, that's a good message to give. At the same time, we mustn't lose sight of the problems of can we identify the children. Can we actually identify those people who don't just look, but go on and hands-on abuse? Remember, that a person downloading, there are issues around is he a risk to his own children. Should he leave the family home? Should he have access to the children? There are all those sorts of problems we have to get involved in, even after the police have finished with their work.
ASST CHIEF CONSTABLE JIM GAMBLE:
That's why I think John Carr's report today is extremely important. I believe that, when he says that one in three people who distribute or collect these images is likely to commit real-time abuse, that's why the police need to look at a risk-assessed approach. We are not so much interested in arresting people - that's a secondary issue. The primary issue is arresting and rescuing victims. If you read the report it says at one point that over the last 2 or 3 years, 27 children were identified who had been groomed and brought to a place where a sexual offence was committed against them. In Operation Ore, over 60 children have been made safe or safer in this investigation. We are beginning to understand the nature of the crime and the criminal in this particular environment. We are working together across ACPO and all the police services across the UK, and with the police services around the globe. The world is a smaller place because of this and we are working together as never before. I think, if we want to deliver a message to victims sitting at home, it's one about there is hope, we are getting better. If you are a perpetrator, or you have inappropriate sexual feelings towards children, go and seek help before you go on the internet and find that you have introduced yourself to the criminal justice system, because there will be consequences.
Thank you both very much.