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Last Updated: Monday, 12 January, 2004, 19:01 GMT
Internet child porn safety call
Computer user
Experts want effective safety devices to protect children
Child protection experts are calling on the computer industry to install better safety devices to help stop children becoming victims of abuse.

NCH said in a report that the internet had driven a 1,500% rise in child pornography crimes since 1988.

Experts believe the availability of images of children could be encouraging people to commit actual abuse.

There are also fears new mobiles that can film, display and send video could generate a further danger to children.

The new 3G mobiles are not yet in common use, but once they proliferate they could be even more anonymous than the internet.

With the spiralling problem becoming increasingly difficult to police, critics say specialist units do not have enough resources.

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 NCH, formerly National Children's Homes, said 549 child porn offenders were charged or cautioned in 2001, compared with only 35 in 1988.

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...

"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".

Mr Carr insisted anyone who looked at child porn had to be considered at least a potential "hands-on" paedophile.

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

"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."

On how to control the problem, Mr Carr said the industry had 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."

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

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 unit's time.

"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 a company which has launched the new video phones.

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 Margaret Gilmore
"The report shows how fast child abuse via the internet is spreading"


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