LOCKING down in March may have slowed the spread of coronavirus, but it also gave rise to an epidemic of child sexual abuse online.
In the UK, more than eight million attempts to access photos and videos of children suffering were made in one month alone.
Online abuse takes many forms, but one that really turns my stomach is livestreaming.
As Home Secretary, the National Crime Agency told me how British sex offenders hire traffickers in countries like the Philippines to provide children for them to violate via video link.
The abuser chooses the age, gender and hair colour of the child they want to see harmed.
They issue specific instructions, directing their own films and photos to be circulated for the sick gratification of others online.
Their requests are nauseating and extreme.
Over half of the victims rescued from these cyber dens of horror were younger than 12 – more than a hundred were under six.
According to Interpol live-streamed abuse is on the rise and, to our shame, the UK is the world’s third largest offender.
Yet a case review by International Justice Mission, the world’s largest anti-slavery organisation, reveals how Britons found guilty of directing and paying for live-streamed abuse of Filipino children served on average less than two and a half years in prison.
That’s about half the sentence they’d expect if that child was in the UK.
Compared to in-person abuse sentences for livestreaming look trivial.
Children still experience the same fear, trauma and pain.
The abuser is there directing it in real-time.
Morally, they may as well have been in the room when their orders were carried out on an innocent child.
I believe they should be treated more harshly, by creating new offences tailored towards online crimes so those who abuse children via video link are treated just as severely as if they had done it in person.
We should also make it mandatory for these offenders to undergo a parole board review before they’re freed.
Far too many are automatically released after serving half their sentence, cutting their short sentences further.
I’m proud of the work this government has done to tackle online child abuse.
During my time as Home Secretary we helped found the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre, substantially increased funding for frontline agencies and increased their resources.
Priti Patel has done excellent work to build on that.
But if we’re serious about tackling this vile practice, livestreaming must be treated every bit as seriously as in-person abuse.
It’s time for the punishment to fit the crime.
By Sajid Javid, ex-Home Secretary
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