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Child Sex Predators

Volume 803: debated on Thursday 4 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent 18 to 25 year-olds becoming child sex predators online.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as a champion of the Internet Watch Foundation.

My Lords, child sexual abuse is an abhorrent crime and tackling it is a key priority for the Home Office. We aim to prevent offending by halting the escalation of harmful sexual behaviour in young people. We support the Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s Stop It Now! campaign, which signposts those concerned about their behaviour towards confidential support, and the joint project by the Marie Collins Foundation and the Internet Watch Foundation to increase awareness of the law.

I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. In April, during lockdown, data from three internet companies serving the UK market and deploying the Internet Watch Foundation’s webpage blocking list identified 8.8 million attempts to access known sexual abuse imagery of innocent children. The IWF is essential in preventing internet users, especially young men, accessing—often accidentally—this type of horrific content and going on to commit sexual offences. What are the Government doing to tackle the issue of the estimated 300,000 people who currently pose a threat to children in the UK, and what steps are they taking to encourage smaller ISPs that do not deploy the list?

The noble Baroness points towards the international response required here. We not only engage with our Five Eyes partners but employ technology for takedown of such images, as do our international partners. We engage with our police and law enforcement agencies to enable the takedown of these sorts of images. On a practical level, we work with NGOs to ensure that children are kept safe online and that some of the things they do online are safe.

Evidence to the child abuse inquiry is very clear: major trauma in teenage years can be directly correlated to future dysfunctional sexual behaviour. How will an integrated early intervention strategy for these teenagers fit into government policy?

The noble Lord is absolutely right to point that out. The evidence is very clear. The obligatory RSE that will start in secondary schools from September will be very helpful in pointing children to what a healthy relationship looks like, as opposed to those encouraged by some of the things they might hear from their friends or see online.

My Lords, sadly this is a problem we need to be alert to in the world of sport. In that context, will my noble friend commend the work of the NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit, which builds the capacity of sports to safeguard children in and through sport and enables sports organisations to lead the way in keeping children safe from harm?

I certainly will. During this lockdown period we provided funding to the NSPCC which helps parents keep their children safe online too.

I declare my interests as noted in the register. With an increase in harms to children online during this pandemic, the pushback of the online harms Bill and no date yet set for the code of conduct so tirelessly campaigned for by my noble friend Lady Kidron, when will the Government commit to filling the gaps left by these pushbacks and delays?

My Lords, will the Government provide the 10% of funding for the UK Safer Internet Centre currently provided by the European Union after the end of the transition phase of leaving the EU? Childnet gets 50% of its funding from the EU, so is even more vulnerable.

My Lords, efforts to combat CSA come from a number of funding sources, from the Home Office and elsewhere, and various NGOs. We will base our funding decisions on the best needs of children in this country and how to keep them safe.

My Lords, I also declare my interest as a long-term champion of the Internet Watch Foundation. There is clear evidence that the chat functions of popular online games and apps are often used by sexual predators to gain access to their victims. Is enough being done by the Government to ensure that parents and those providing these apps and games are aware of the threat?

We are very concerned about some of these games and apps, particularly those with end-to-end encryption, which means that the CSPs themselves cannot see inside them. Therefore, they and law enforcement may not be able to see evidence of child sexual abuse. The Five Eyes are working very hard to this end.

What specific criteria or objectives have the Government set themselves by which they can be held to account for their success or failure to address the disturbing incidence of child sex abuse and the equally awful reality of child sex predators?

Even before lockdown began, one of the things that I and other Ministers in the Home Office were most concerned about was not just domestic abuse but child sexual abuse and exploitation online. During lockdown the NCA has continued to target high-risk online CSA offenders. It has executed 47 warrants, made 51 arrests in 21 police force areas and safeguarded or protected 105 children, with 416 devices seized. The NCA has also disseminated 2,600 online CSA packages to UK policing during lockdown.

My Lords, in response to an earlier question the Minister talked about the online harms Bill coming before Parliament “as soon as we possibly can.” However, we have still not received the response to the Government’s White Paper on this matter. Can the Minister assure me that before November this year we will get a response to it? Will the legislation appear before 2022, or will we have to wait that long before we can see a Bill to rectify this matter?

When I gave evidence to HASC the other week with Caroline Dinenage, she committed towards having it before the end of the year.