CEOP Warns Of Jump In Online Complaints

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre has recorded a large increase in the number of online compliants

Child protection agency CEOP has revealed a large jump in the number of online complaints last year, and warned of the growing trend of explicit ‘self-taken’ images by children and young people.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre said in a new report (PDF) that it had 6,291 reports in the last year, an increase of 880 on the previous year. However, it seems that the increase could be down to the increased publicity that CEOP has gained over the past twelve months.

CEOP was created in 2006 to track down online paedophiles and bring them to court.

Greater Publicity

Over the last year, the agency has gained a lot of publicity thanks to its lobbying of the likes of Facebook to place a “panic button” on the social network for threatened children to use if they think a paedophile might be pestering them online.

Despite initially resisting the idea, Facebook finally reached a compromise with CEOP, stating that both organisations were “aligned on making the Internet safer.”

Of the 6,291 reports it received last year, a quarter (1,536) were apparently related to grooming and a further quarter (1,553) were related to the possession and distribution of images. Eight percent (513) involved contact sexual abuse by a suspect.

And more worryingly for parents, 135 reports involve a suspect making arrangements to meet a child in the real world, while 434 relate to a child being incited to perform a sexual act.

Parent Nightmare

CEOP also warned of an alarming development, with an increasing trend of explicit ‘self-taken’ images by children and young people, indicating that many are prepared to take risks in making online contact with strangers. In an effort to combat this, CEOP has launched a two week advertising campaign on Facebook, supported by the social networking site, to raise awareness of the dangers of uploading indecent or uninhibited images online.

The report does make for depressing reading, especially as it noted a rise in the number of investigations referred to CEOP relating to women who sexually abuse children and an indication that Vietnamese children now make up the largest group of children being trafficked into the UK, although this is mostly for exploitation in the cultivation of cannabis.

But where are all these reports coming from? The report states that 40 percent of reports come from the public (overwhelmingly through the ClickCEOP button), and that the overall increase in reports is due to a “rise in industry reporting – from online moderators, website hosts and mobile phone companies, among others.”

“The scale and nature of reports received by CEOP’s child protection specialists demonstrate an ongoing need to educate and inform young people about the risk of posting inappropriate images of themselves online,” said chief executive Jim Gamble (left). “Unfortunately we have seen cases where these photos and videos have ended up in the wrong hands of those collecting child abuse images.”

“One report sometimes enables us to identify hundreds of victims,” he added. “The fact that a quarter of our reports relate to grooming – and in particular the 135 reports of children who were contacted by offenders attempting to meet them offline – highlight the importance of CEOP’s online safety programme, which has now reached more than 6 million children.”

Gamble Resignation

“Child protection will always be an absolute priority for government and CEOP continues to play a crucial role in ensuring children are safeguarded,” said Home Office Minister for Crime Prevention James Brokenshire. “It’s encouraging to see how many reports now come from industry and that the majority of reports from the public are made through the ClickCEOP button.”

Last month Gamble warned that government plans to roll CEOP into the National Crime Agency would not benefit children. Gamble has offered his resignation to the Home Secretary with a four month notice period, because CEOP was dubbed a quango and therefore was a cost-cutting target for the coalition government.