Online child abuse: The real problem is the people

Former CEO of Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre Jim Gamble. Credit: Paul Faith/PA Archive

It would be churlish to fail to acknowledge that the Prime Minister's involvement in the internet safety debate has been positive, writes child protection expert Jim Gamble former CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

His views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

From the outset it has been clear that he has the best of intentions, even if he has been poorly advised and ill-informed.

Today's announcement demonstrates that the likes of Google and Microsoft listen.

If you scratch the surface, however, it also evidences the fact that nearly everything was already in place. Some of these new tactics will help divert inadvertent access and perhaps delay a novice paedophile, but much of the hype in real terms will mean very little.

The way to deter offenders from raping, abusing, photographing, sharing or seeking out images of child abuse is to line child abusers up, in the dock of a court room. One of the main problems is that people can see that is not happening.

That is why public frustration often results in online vigilantes like Letzgo hunting enticing paedophiles to meet offline or actions by charities like Terre des Hommes who raised awareness of the problem by luring thousands of suspect sex offenders from their online nests to engage a virtual child.

This is where the government must pause, look at themselves in the moral mirror they hold up to others so often, and ask whether they are doing enough?

And before ministers hide behind the wall of recession and austerity consider this. Less than £1.5 million a year would pay for 12 regional child protection experts, supported by twelve training coordinators.

They could recruit, vet, train and supervise volunteers in every police force in the UK. People, who would work for free, retired police officers, IT specialists, teachers, nurses, academics, ordinary people with specialist training and support.

If every force recruited ten such volunteers we could turn the tables.

Imagine 520 ‘Special Constables’ working to identify, locate and rescue the children trapped inside abusive images?

Imagine the impact on the confidence of offenders trawling the internet when they can no longer be sure that they are engaging a child and not one of the many police co-ordinated undercover officers?

I genuinely hope the PM recognises that this is the beginning, not the end and that he remains personally involved.

I am in no doubt that the children need him and the influence he brings to bear, but he needs better advice and must now do something really special and target the real problem; people.