The issue of keep children safe from online grooming an other forms of abuse took center stage on Monday, as the UK Home Minister Sajid Javid delivered a speech on the matter.
Mr. Javid spoke about abuse figures by national agencies, stressing that "sexual abuse is taking place in family homes; on our streets; in our communities; and in institutions across our country."
Sputnik discussed the issue with Dr. Bernard Gallagher, academic and expert in child protection.
Sputnik: Is the UK government effective in its ways of tackling child abuse online?
Dr. Bernard Gallagher: Overall, the response to the online child sexual abuse is quite lamentable. It is a very poor response. As Sajid Javid said himself, there are 80,000 individuals, minimum, who pose a threat to children. Why on earth do we have a situation, where there are probably hundreds of thousands in the UK — if we knew about all of them — who present this risk to children? The government doesn't do anywhere near enough to tackle this problem — a large part of it is due to funding.
In my research, I found the UK police were faced delays of sometimes 1-6 months before they could examine the digital equipment as part of their investigation. They may have an individual, they suspect of grooming a child or downloading images, and they have to examine this person's equipment but they were facing delays of months. How can that situation be allowed to exist? I'm sure it is the same or worse now. In that time, children might be continuing to be abused.
The police are very dedicated to do the work — they just don't have the resources.
Sputnik: Internet giants were mentioned in Mr. Javid's speech as he expects them to get the horrific content" off their platforms and "do more." Are tech giants doing enough to tackle child abuse and exploitation online?
Dr. Bernard Gallagher: Internet companies are not doing anywhere near enough. It strikes me as very interesting that they have such a low profile in this area. It reinforces the impression that they are doing very little. There might be different reasons for that — they don't care enough and are more concerned about making money or they have misplaced priorities and think the privacy of their customers takes precedence over the protection of children. Clearly that's wrong, the protection of children takes precedence.
The abilities of tech companies are changing. Sajid Javid might have been referring to images when put on internet — having a unique number attached to them. If someone sends that image to somebody else, there is a way of tracking the images. So the companies could be doing searches for these images, detecting them and deleting them.
There are difficulties because some of this activity might be taking place on the Dark Web, which is hard to monitor. I agree with the government and the NSPCC that these tech companies are not doing enough. But the trouble is that the government shouldn't be just standing by. The government should make these companies take this problem seriously.
The threat of online #ChildSexualAbuse has evolved quicker than the tech industry’s response to it, says Home Secretary @sajidjavid: “I am not just asking for change, I am demanding it.” pic.twitter.com/ruj732LleQ— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) September 3, 2018
We've heard it before, we're hearing it now and we will hear it next year. It is not good enough that the government ministers keep making these announcements. If the general public had any idea as to what these images show, even the slightest idea — they would be up in arms. But in some ways the government and these technical companies get away with it because the general public doesn't appreciate how horrendous the problem is. There would be pictures having sex with babies and committing physical abuse of babies.
Sputnik: Mr. Javid said in his speech there will be "no no-go areas of inquiry" and he won't let "cultural or political sensitivities get in the way" of understanding the issue of child abuse in the UK. Is there an established patter of the ethnicity of perpetrators in Britain?
In online cases of grooming and abuse, a lot of these individuals are white men. Why don't we bang about white men grooming girls online? It is important to keep the issue of race in perspective but ultimately what matters is what these men are doing — abusing girls and boys.
Sajid Javid's speech is a government signal to the policing authorities they shouldn't be afraid to conduct investigations. It is important if people are doing it.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.