Detectives are continuing to urge parents/carers and young people to remain vigilant and educate themselves about the dangers of being online and the risks it can pose.
Between Monday, 1 and Sunday, 7 March, officers from across the Met executed 64 warrants, made 31 arrests, and safeguarded 68 children as as part of Operation Legatum.
This operation, led by the Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (OCSAE) Unit, focuses on identifying and pursuing suspected online offenders.
Detective Superintendent Helen Flanagan, from the Met’s OCSAE Unit, said: “Officers have been continuing to work flat out during lockdown to track down those suspected of harming children and young people online.
“With this in mind I want to continue to encourage parents and young people to take appropriate steps to remain safe online. We know there is an increased threat posed by the growing amount of time spent online during the UK’s lockdown.
“The internet can be a great space for young people to play, socialise and learn, and offers wonderful opportunities. However, it can be used by offenders to prey on young people and commit serious offences.
“Lockdown has led to a significant growth in online use, including by children. Unfortunately, it also means there are a greater number of sexual predators out there trying to target and groom young people.”
During last week’s operation, officers seized 264 exhibits and carried out a further 33 safeguarding visits. Those arrested came from a variety of backgrounds.
Online offenders sometimes try and convince themselves that they’re ‘only looking’ but there is no such thing. Every image is a crime scene, with a real child being abused. Every time offenders look at or share that image they are committing a crime and repeating abuse which devastates lives.
Detectives will now have to examine tens of thousands of child abuse and exploitation images on phones, tablets, and laptops as part of their investigations.
The Met has seen a rise in reporting and receives an average of 60 reports a week from the National Crime Agency.
Detective Superintendent Flanagan added: “I want to continue to urge parents to have conversations with their children about online safety, learn how their children use the internet and, if they notice any behavioural changes in their child, ask questions and explore if there is something worrying them.”
Parents and carers are also advised to review and turn on safety features, such as parental controls and privacy settings, on devices to help protect their child.
The Met works closely with a range of partners across government, statutory agencies, the technology industry, and the third sector to act quickly on referrals, remove images, and protect young people.
One of these is child protection charity Lucy Faithfull, whose Stop it Now! campaign aims to raise awareness of the harm caused by viewing indecent images online and works with law enforcement agencies.
Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Tens of thousands of people in the UK are viewing sexual images and videos of children online, and lockdown is likely to have increased that number. They aren’t all the stereotypical loners of popular imagination – they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
“The risk of getting caught has never been greater, as this Met Police activity highlights. These crimes do serious harm to children and there are grave consequences for those who commit them – people risk arrest, prison, and losing their jobs and families. But some of those people recognise that what they are doing is wrong, that it causes harm, and want to change. Some family members and close friends also suspect or know what a loved one is doing online.
“Our confidential helpline and self-help website support thousands of people every month who are worried about their own or a loved one’s online behaviour. We’ve seen record numbers contact us during lockdown – people who realise they need help to stop what they or their loved one is doing. People who realise that doing nothing is not an option. You don’t have to face this alone.”
As internet usage in general has continued to rise year on year, it has led to an increase of indecent material and assisted this type of offending, and the Met is continually reviewing, adapting and improving its procedures and practices in order to keep pace with rapidly evolving technology in the online sphere.
Anyone worried about their own or someone else’s online behaviour can get confidential support from Stop It Now! by calling 0808 1000 900 or visiting stopitnow.org.uk/helpline
+ London 2020 stats are: 239 people contacting the helpline for support regarding their own or someone else’s online behaviour; 17,400 using our self-help website for support regarding their own or someone else’s online behaviour.