FOUR people who were suspected of wanting to meet children for inappropriate activity have been arrested by Thames Valley Police.
They were part of a month-long operation on people undertaking online child sexual abuse that saw officers raid 37 properties, seize 419 devices and arrest 32 people. Thames Valley Police said that they have also safeguarded 24 children who have been at risk.
It comes after the force reported a 146% year-on-year increase in reports of online child sexual abuse in March. Lockdown is thought to be one of the reasons behind it: with new government restrictions in place and with schools closed throughout this period, the number of children at home and using electronic devices was much higher than usual.
The warrants were executed across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire using specialist officers from the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit working with Thames Valley Police.
Detective Chief Inspector Matt Darnell, of the Thames Valley Police Protecting Vulnerable People Unit, said: “Sadly, we believe that criminals have looked to exploit the fact that more children have been at home and online, and as such there has been a large increase in the number of reports we’ve received about online child sexual abuse.”
He added that the execution of the warrants was “business as usual” as it routinely carries out warrants such as these.
“However,” he said, “we want to ensure that a clear message is being sent to those that look to exploit children”.
“This is not acceptable – it is a very serious crime and you will get caught,” he continued.
“These warrants show that we are constantly monitoring the intelligence we receive about these offences, and that we will come to your home, investigate, seize your devices and arrest you if necessary.
“I am really pleased that the activity we have carried out has resulted in so many children being safeguarded and that we have made a large number of arrests.”
Online sexual abuse is any type of sexual abuse that happens on the internet, whether through social networks, online gaming or using mobile phones. In some cases this involves children being groomed or exploited by an adult.
Thames Valley Police stressed that there are no grey areas, those who attempt to exploit children online are serious criminals, but there is help available to these individuals in order to prevent further offences.
Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “People who are viewing increasing quantities of adult pornography need to ensure they don’t step over a line and start viewing sexual images of under 18s – over recent years that is the path the majority of viewers of sexual material involving children have taken.
“Viewers of this material may make excuses to themselves – that they didn’t take the pictures; that they aren’t involved in the abuse; that the images are of teenagers and not little children – but all sexual images of under 18s are illegal, children are harmed in its creation and viewing, and there are grave consequences facing those who are arrested.
“Over the years we’ve helped thousands across the UK stop their illegal behaviour. If you are concerned about your own online behaviour or that of a loved one, please take action and call the Stop It Now! helpline for confidential advice.”
Confidential help is available to those experiencing inappropriate thoughts or feelings via Stop It Now on 0808 1000 900.