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Last Updated: Monday, 12 January, 2004, 13:47 GMT
Net blamed for rise in child porn
Computer keyboard
Some paedophiles can be traced to their computers
Child porn crimes have risen by 1,500% since 1988 and new internet mobile phones could make things even worse, according to a children's charity.

The internet is largely to blame for the huge rise in child porn offences, according to a report by NCH, formerly National Children's Homes.

The charity says 549 child porn offenders were charged or cautioned in 2001, compared with only 35 in 1988.

The charity fears new third generation 3G phones, with video streaming, will lead to even more offences because they are in some ways even more anonymous.

John Carr, the author of the report, told BBC Radio Five Live: "In pre-internet days, if you wanted to get hold of child abuse images it was quite a difficult thing to do...

1988: 35 cautioned or charged
2001: 549 cautioned or charged (1,500% increase)
Since 1988, 3,022 people in total cautioned or prosecuted
In 2002, in a single day 6,500 Britons were identified as purchasers of child porn from a single US web site
Source: NCH

"The internet completely changed all that. People perhaps with a suppressed or latent interest in it have now got a mechanism... they think the internet is anonymous."

He said offences committed through chat rooms had also been rising "steeply".

But Ray Wyre, a sexual crime consultant who has treated offenders, said the problem may have been worse in the past than society had realised.

"Before 1988 child pornography, the possession of it, was not an offence," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Up until then I had clients who had even been given back the child pornography after they'd hands-on abused because there was no power to keep it."

'Abuser by proxy'

Both experts agreed anyone who looked at child porn had to be considered at least a potential "hands-on" paedophile.

"A paedophile is somebody who sexually abuses children," said Mr Carr.

"Anybody who looks at child pornography on the internet is an abuser by proxy.

"And over one in three people found in possession of child pornography, according to a very large American survey, will in fact be involved in hands-on abuse."

Kids and parents need to be both streetwise as well as internet wise.
Andy H, London, UK

On how to control the problem, Mr Carr said censorship would be undesirable and, anyway, technically impossible to implement.

He called on the industry to do more to make the internet safer for children.

He said: "We do need more and better technical solutions, and this is really throwing a challenge down to the industry.

"If we cannot convince the majority of the public that the internet is a safe place for children... in the end the internet as we know it today will cease to exist, and that will be a sad day."

It's technically possible [to track paedophile activities on the net], the only thing there's a shortage of is the actual resources being made available to the police
Dr Rachel O'Connell

Situation 'worse'

The figures for 2002, when they come out, are expected to be much higher even than 2001, because of the impact of Operation Ore, an investigation into 6,500 Britons accused of accessing one US-based child porn site using credit cards.

Dr Rachel O'Connell, director of the Cyberspace Research Centre at the University of Central Lancashire, said that operation had in some ways made the situation worse by taking up so much of police's computer crime units time.

"Most of their resources, if not all, are taken up investigating the cases that were identified in Operation Ore," she told BBC Breakfast.

"It's technically possible [to track paedophile activities on the net], the only thing there's a shortage of is the actual resources being made available to the police."

Hutchison 3G is the only company to have launched the new video phones so far.

It and the other big five mobile phone firms - Vodafone, Virgin, T Mobile, Orange and O2 - are publishing their own code of practice later this month on tackling potential problems.

The BBC's James Westhead
"The big worry is that new technology could make it even harder for the police"


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