Britain’s top cop in charge of child protection estimates there are as many as 20,000 British men interested in abusing children, a massive group that law enforcement officials say they are unprepared to address.
Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead man on child protection, told the Guardian his investigations into online pedophilia chatrooms, one of which was attended by over 4,000 British men, led him to conclude that there are roughly 20,000 Britons sexually interested in children. He says this number has grown as technological advancements provide greater opportunities for access to children, leaving the authorities lacking the resources to combat the growing problem.
“We are having to prioritise the threat,” he said. “Some lower-level offenders cannot be arrested and taken to court. There is just not the capacity.”
Bailey’s estimates are supported by a recent analysis, performed by a child protection charity group, which found a 31 percent increase in the number of reported cases of abuse in the last year. The authorities attribute much of the jump to a greater willingness to report abuse and increased awareness around the issue.
While Bailey recognizes the increased awareness, he cites the availability of live chatrooms like Periscope, which is owned by Twitter, and Facebook Live as primary factors in the increased threat.
“I think there is more sexual abuse of children being perpetrated both physically and virtually,” he said. “There are more men than five to 10 years ago who are trying to abuse children.”
“I believe there are tens of thousands of men that are now going into chatrooms and forums with a view to grooming children,” he added. “Technology has afforded an access to children that people who have a sexual interest in children never had before.”
Bailey insists that authorities cannot “arrest their way” out of the problem and called on tech companies to police their platforms to prevent child exploitation.
“Software providers have a critical role in policing the environment they create,” he said. “They have a social and moral responsibility to make their platforms safe for children to use.”
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