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Better training needed for online sex abuse investigation

Most police officers in the UK have investigated online child sexual abuse with no appropriate training, according to a recent survey.

Middlesex University London has conducted the most comprehensive report to date on online child sexual abuse and warns that better collaboration between police and the online industry is desperately needed to protect children.

Tiff Lynch, chairman of Leicestershire Police Federation, said: "This report clearly highlights the need for improved training, which we fully support, and the Government and those at the helm must provide officers with the right tools.

"Protecting victims, particularly children, from online sexual abuse is one way the police have a positive and tangible effect on public safety and officers want to be able to do that in the most effective way.

"But when our members are fire fighting to simply manage day-to-day demand, leaders must consider times ahead, how crime will continue to evolve, and how we put ourselves in a place to tackle it head-on."

The two-year study, which concluded last month, highlights that around 2.9 billion people, or almost half of the world's current population, are now online. This means protecting children and vulnerable people will become increasingly difficult.

It also found:

  • Around 60 per cent, of officers said they had investigated some form of online child sexual abuse yet most did not receive any appropriate training.
  • The UK sample of youths had the highest figure of 53 per cent who said they had been sexually solicited online when they were between 12 and 16 years of age.
  • All respondents were found to have engaged in some form of risky online behaviour including providing personal information, visiting pornographic sites, sharing photos/videos, or meeting an adult face to face they only knew online.
  • 65 per cent of respondents said their parents had 'never' blocked or filtered their internet access.
  • Girls were more likely to be solicited by a stranger and also more likely to be approached by older men.
  • An urgent need for increased collaboration between industry and the police.
  • Investigating and prosecuting online child sexual abuse is made challenging by different countries' differing legal frameworks.
  • More resources are needed for all police and the recommendations from specialist officers trained in online child sexual abuse investigations should be implemented.

The report recommended mentoring specialist police officers, naming points of contact for forces, and joint police force and law enforcement task forces. It also said there is a need for basic specialist training for all rank and file officers and more advanced training for specialist officers.