Predators are manipulating parents online to get to their children, police warn

9 February 2024, 00:20 | Updated: 9 February 2024, 00:21

Predators manipulating parents online to get to their children, police have warned
Predators manipulating parents online to get to their children, police have warned. Picture: Getty
Fraser Knight

By Fraser Knight

Undercover officers have stepped up their policing of the online world as new technology leads to a growing risk of child sexual abuse.

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Undercover officers have stepped up their policing of the online world as new technology leads to a growing risk of child sexual abuse.

Over the past 12 months, 1,665 arrests have been made as a result of work done baiting or monitoring predators on the web.

In one case, officers snared an offender who was engaging in sexual conversations with the mother of a 9-year-old girl and made arrangements with her to abuse her daughter for money.

He said he would pay £200 when he first met her and then another £200 when he was able to have sex with the girl “once she got to know him better”.

He was jailed for 8 years with an extended 6 years on licence.

Undercover officers have stepped up their policing of the online world as new technology leads to a growing risk of child sexual abuse
Undercover officers have stepped up their policing of the online world as new technology leads to a growing risk of child sexual abuse. Picture: Alamy

Assistant Chief Constable Alastair Simpson told LBC manipulating vulnerable adults for access to the children is “a relatively common tactic”.

“The nature of the sort of individual who engages in this behaviour is that they are manipulative by nature - they seek to hide their offences behind a cloak of anonymity, manipulate people who might be vulnerable.

“They will deliberately target vulnerable adults and children online to achieve their aims and what it says is that these are really dangerous people and it’s important we catch them.

“My message is clear - because we've got this network of undercover online officers there is no safe place for people who seek to target children.

“We can and we have caught people on online spaces and we will continue to do so.”

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Police forces have been working closely with the National Crime Agency (NCA) to identify vulnerable children with around 1,200 being safeguarded every month.

There are concerns the problem is set to grow wider, though, with offences increasing in scale, severity and complexity year on year.

The growing use of Artificial Intelligence is feeding into that already, a senior leader at the NCA warned, with an expectation that it will continue to pose an increased threat.

Wendy Hart, deputy director for child sexual abuse at the NCA, said: “AI represents another wave of people to offend and will enable greater offending.

“It will lower barriers for generating material and grooming or coercing children and can be done at scale more effectively.

“We are starting to see some generative material come through and we’re working with the Home Office to understand what capabilities we can put in place to start identifying this at scale. We’re going to have to use AI for good to counteract it being used for harm.

“It’s important to say that this generated material is still illegal in the UK, irrespective of whether it’s real or not, and that’s something we’re really keen for people to know.”

The Online Safety Act now puts an onus on platforms to remove harmful material and to protect children’s wellbeing but campaigners say they’re still not doing enough to protect children online.

Rani Govender, Senior Child Safety Online Policy Officer at the NSPCC children’s charity told LBC: “The cases are incredibly disturbing and show that offenders are able to manipulate a range of features of the online world - whether new technology or fake profiles.

“These crimes have a real impact and are impacting children and families across the UK so we must always remember when we hear about these stats that these are real children who are being impacted by them and that’s why change is so important.

“We haven’t seen anywhere near enough being done by tech companies to protect children. We’ve consistently seen responses which are reactive and look to shift the blame so we need to see a real change in this dynamic.”

Minister for Security, Tom Tugendhat MP, said: “The scale and severity of child sexual abuse committed online is appalling. We must be unrelenting in the pursuit of offenders.

“The Police’s Undercover Online Network is vital for delivering swift justice to predators and safeguarding vulnerable children.

“We will continue to send a message to child sex offenders that they cannot act with impunity online. They will be found, and they will be punished for their crimes.”

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