Violent pornography easily accessible on smartphones is contributing to a surge in child-on-child sex assaults and rapes, a police chief has warned.
More than half of all 107,000 child abuse offences reported to police in 2022 involved a perpetrator aged between 10 and 17, with 8,020 sex assaults and 6,813 rapes recorded.
He said: “This is predominantly a gender-based crime of boys committing offences against girls.
“I think that is being exacerbated by the accessibility to violent pornography and the ease in which violent pornography is accessible to boys and, therefore, a perception that is normalised behaviour and therefore that person can carry out that behaviour that they are seeing online in the most violent way against other peers as well.
“Clearly the accessibility to smartphones has just rocketed not just in relation to 11 to 16-year-olds, but in relation to under-10s as well, that accessibility has really exacerbated that and I think this is a debate that does need to be had in our society.”
Mr Critchley said it was vital that parents spoke to their children about online safety at the earliest opportunity.
He said: “I would stress the importance of parents and carers having conversations. I know only too well how difficult and embarrassing these conversations are, but it’s too late once the abuse has occurred or once an image has been shared.”
Increase of 7.6 per cent in one year
The majority of child-on-child sex offences reported to the police involved the taking, making and sharing of indecent images, with 15,534 cases in 2022.
Data collected from 42 police forces in England and Wales revealed that in 2022, a total of 106,984 child sexual abuse offences were reported to police.
That figure was up 7.6 per cent on the previous year and up from just over 20,000 recorded in 2013.
Almost three-quarters of the offences reported related to crimes committed directly against children, while the remainder involved indecent images.
Around a third of all crimes were committed within a family setting with parents and siblings being the main perpetrators.
But there were warnings that the full scale of the abuse that took place during lockdown may not be known for some time, as victims can take many years to report family abuse.
‘Many crimes going unreported’
Mr Critchley also acknowledged there remained widespread under-reporting of offences and the National Crime Agency (NCA) recently suggested there were more than 830,000 people in the UK who posed a risk to young people.
“It’s highly likely that many of these crimes are going unreported and hidden for years.”
Researchers also found that some perpetrators are using artificial intelligence (AI) and “deep fake” technology to create indecent images of children.
This includes paedophiles using “nudification” techniques on existing real pictures to make the victim appear naked, as well as entirely AI-generated images.
Wendy Hart, the deputy director for child sexual abuse at the NCA, said: “As this report shows, the scale of child sexual abuse continues to increase year on year.
“We also know from our collective analysis that the severity of offending has increased, as have the complexities faced by law enforcement in tackling it.”
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