Page last updated at 23:39 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 00:39 UK

Child sex abuse arrests 'up 10%'

A hand on a keyboard
Social networking sites are increasingly being used to groom children

The number of suspected UK child sex offenders arrested over the past year has risen by 10% to 334, the body set up to tackle abuse has said.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection unit said it had helped protect 139 children and disrupted 82 paedophile networks over the 12 months.

The arrests, in the UK and abroad, were for offences ranging from possession of indecent images to rape.

But Ceop warned that the tactics being used by paedophiles were evolving.

'Most wanted'

Chief executive Jim Gamble said it was "easy to be alarmist" and suggest "technology is opening doors for offenders to abuse children quicker than we can close them".

But he said: "This is not about technology - this is about people. There is no distinction between the online and offline worlds."

Jim Gamble
We should afford our children the same protection online that we would give them in the park or playground
Jim Gamble
Ceop chief executive

The Ceop, which runs a "most wanted" website, said it had arrested more than 700 suspects, helped 350 children and disrupted 166 networks since its launch three years ago.

Of the 5,686 reports connected to child abuse over the past year, nearly half were from children and adults reporting on behalf of a child, the Ceop said.

An average of four reports a day needed immediate action as a result of a child being at risk, it added.

Mr Gamble said: "This is about the behaviour of offenders manipulating any environment to abuse children.

"Child protection is everybody's business and we should afford our children the same protection online that we would give them in the park or playground."

The figures, published in the organisation's annual review, showed grooming was still the most widely reported offence.

A Ceop spokesman said while this was mainly done through instant messaging, there was a "fast-growing trend" of grooming through integrated social networking sites.

Offenders were also using more peer-to-peer networks and newsgroups rather than commercial pay-per-view sites, the report said.

It warned that mobile internet access was "placing new and additional responsibilities on parents".

Almost three quarters of missing and high risk offenders referred to the Ceop during the past year had travelled or were located overseas, the report added.

Mr Gamble said its work with colleagues overseas was "shrinking the world for the offender".

More than four million children are now thought to have seen the Ceop's Thinkuknow education programme about online safety.

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