The serious dangers of children using online chat rooms have been exposed by Good Morning Britain in a new investigation, and now the NSPCC is calling on the Government to take urgent action.
Good Morning Britain conducted an undercover experiment which saw a producer from the programme pose as a 12 year - old girl in a range of chat rooms aimed at teenagers and kids. The NSPCC describes the 'huge gap in knowledge' as 'beyond belief'.
The findings of the Good Morning Britain investigation are very worrying and should be seen as a wake up call. Sadly, we know that as children spend more time socialising online this is increasingly where predatory paedophiles are looking for their victims. In this case it was on grooming on a vast scale.
– Claire Lilley, NSPCC’s head of child safety online
Police whistleblower James Patrick told Good Morning Britain that forces are 15 years behind in dealing with this problem which is why we uncovered what he describes as a 'lawless environment free for paedophiles to target children'
There is a growing attitude amongst police officers that anything online isn’t real. I’d estimate on the size of the gap of knowledge and from my experience of police technology that policing is at least 15 years behind in getting to grips with this problem.
– Police whistleblower James Patrick
Download the NSPCC's online safety checklists here:
Good Morning Britain spoke to Alan Wardle Head of Public Affairs at the NSPCC and former police officer James Patrick:
A spokesperson from the National Crime Agency's CEOP command said:
We know from our experience that whilst the internet offers great opportunities, there will always be people that seek to exploit it to abuse children.
We work closely with our partners in law enforcement, industry and the charity sector to identify the main threats to children, share information and intelligence and coordinate activity against these threats.
However, we recognise there will always be more that we can do as technology, and how people use it, advances.
Our Thinkuknow education programme provides crucial information for parents and children on how to stay safe when using the internet, and we continue to encourage people to report any concerns they have regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour online to us using our ClickCEOP button.
– A spokesperson from the National Crime Agency's CEOP command
A Home Office spokesperson said:
Child sexual exploitation is an abhorrent crime which this government is determined to stamp out. We have already introduced a voluntary system for law enforcement agencies to flag all crimes that have an online element, including sexual abuse. This will ensure we have a better picture of the extent of online child sexual exploitation. The system is currently being tested to ensure it is working accurately but the intention is that it will become mandatory in 2015/16.
Alongside this, the National Crime Agency is utilising its expertise in cyber crime and its overseas reach to track down offenders and working with police forces across the UK to close the net on paedophiles and find their victims. The NCA is also educating parents and their children about protecting themselves online through its ThinkUKnow campaign.