Online child abuse and exploitation increases by a fifth in a year – figures

Reports of online child sexual abuse and exploitation in Scotland increased by 21% in a year, according to Police Scotland.

According to data obtained by the force, between April 1 2023 and March 31 2024, 2,055 cyber-enabled sexual crimes against children were recorded, an increase of 364 when compared with the previous 12-month period.

Offences included coercion to see or hear sexual images or content, indecent communication and the possession or distribution of child abuse images.

The majority of perpetrators of online sexual abuse are male (90%).

Most victims are female (54%).

The University of Edinburgh’s Childlight initiative estimates that 300 million children a year worldwide are victims of online sexual abuse and exploitation, and the National Crime Agency (NCA) says between 1.3% and 1.6% of UK adults pose varying degrees of risk to children.

On Monday, Police Scotland launched its latest Get Help or Get Caught campaign to prevent individuals from offending, signposting them to the Lucy Faithfull Foundation Scotland’s Stop It Now service.

Detective Chief Superintendent Sam Faulds, head of public protection for Police Scotland, which leads on child protection, said: “More of us live our lives online and that is particularly true for children and young people.

“Cyber-enabled crime is on the rise, and increasingly our investigations are focused online identifying offenders and bringing them to justice.

“During the school summer holidays, many more children will be at home and online.

“We want to reduce risk, to stop young people becoming victims of online child abuse and exploitation”.

She added: “Many of our key partners provide advice to young people and their parents about keeping safe online. Our role is to target offenders.

“Our prevention campaigns offer them a way to stop, a route out before they offend, before a child becomes their victim, before other lives are damaged.

“We want to prevent children becoming victims of online predators and we will use all means at our disposal to identify offenders.

“Think about it – it might not be a child you are grooming or speaking to online. It might be the police. Take your chance to get help or you will get caught”.

Stuart Allardyce, director of Lucy Faithfull Foundation Scotland, said: “We have worked with hundreds of individuals who have either been arrested for online offences against children or are concerned about their thoughts or behaviours towards children.

“Through our work, we understand how difficult it is to reach out for help.

“We also know that those who engage in these behaviours often need support with their mental health and compulsive behaviours, feeling trapped in a cycle of harmful actions.

“The reasons for viewing sexual images of children or online grooming are complex, and many individuals recognise that what they are doing is wrong”.

He added: “Seeking individualised, anonymous, and non-judgmental support is absolutely the right step to take. This can help individuals stop viewing illegal images or engaging in illegal conversations online.

“By making the right choice and getting the support you need, you can move on from offending or potential criminal behaviour and help protect and keep children safe”.