Officers from Met’s Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Team (OCSAE) have seen a 139% increase in online referrals.

In 2017, the Met’s OCSAE team received 1,050 referrals of child abuse cases where the incidents had occurred online. In 2018, this number had risen by 139 per cent to 2,514 cases.Most of these cases were alerted to police by tech companies. In 2018, they alerted the Met to 1,795 incidents (a 79.5 per cent increase compared to 2017).
Detective Inspector Tony Oakes, from the Met’s Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation team, said: “Over the past few years, we have worked closer than ever with other forces, partner agencies, the government and social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, to catch those responsible for perpetrating child abuse online and bringing them to justice.

“We are continuing to work more cohesively, especially with tech firms all around the world, to make sure that indecent images of children are being removed and that we can track down the criminals who are committing these offences.

“Whilst the 139% per cent increase shows that people are becoming more aware of how to report crimes of this nature, and it also means that we are able to protect and safeguard these victims from any further exploitation.”

The Met’s OCSAE team, which sits within Central Specialist Crime, investigate incidents of Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in pursuit of an offender. Whilst engaged in proactive operations targeting online offenders, the majority of their work involves referrals from a number of partners and the Tech Industry – each indicating an incident of online abuse. These offences range from possession or the sharing of Indecent Images of Children (IIOC) through to online grooming and planned abuse of vulnerable children.

In January of this year (2019), the team has already received 317 referrals to possible offences in London, of which 212 were made to police via the Tech Industry. These offences may include the production, or the distribution, of IIOC.

The majority of Technology Industry referrals are passed through the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a US non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Washington, D.C., established to diminish and prevent the sexual exploitation of children. Under U.S. Federal Law, US-based technology platforms are required to report incidents of online child sexual exploitation.

Since its inception, NCMEC have received more than 18 million reports.

If NCMEC has reason to believe that an offence has been committed in London, a referral would be passed to the Met’s Intelligence team who would then prioritise each investigation and assign to an officer.

DI Oakes, adds: “Although a referral may only show a single incident of abuse, investigators are trained to recognise and expose the fullest extent of offending.

“A typical search of a suspect’s address may result in the seizure of a significant number of devices for examination, including laptops, mobile phones and USB sticks. This process often shows the presence of tens of thousands of indecent images of children.”

Officers are also reminding parents and guardians to remain vigilant to what their children may posting online and whom they could be talking to.

DI Oakes concludes: “Whilst we (the police) are tackling online child sexual abuse after the offence has already happened, we need the help of parents, guardians and schools to raise awareness with children about the vulnerabilities of talking to people online and what images they may be sending.

“What may start as a harmless conversation on a social media site, could well in-fact turn into online grooming where the child is asked to send explicit pictures of themselves. This image could then be shared amongst groomers until it is brought to our attention and we will do all we can to have it removed and find the person(s) responsible for its distribution.”

Anyone who has any information that could help lead to an arrest, or protect a child from online abuse, is asked to call 999. Alternatively, they should contact the NSPCC or Internet Watch Foundation

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