National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Child Protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey said:
“There has never been such a robust approach to tackling the viewing of indecent images. Working with the National Crime Agency, police are arresting over 400 offenders and safeguarding over 500 children a month in relation to the viewing of child abuse imagery. But research suggests we are barely scratching the surface because there may be as many as 500,000 men in the UK who have or are viewing indecent images of children.
“The police service is dealing with an unprecedented volume of reports of child sexual abuse – non-recent abuse, ongoing abuse, online abuse and peer-to-peer abuse. The numbers are continuing to rise. We have reached saturation point.
“The police service has responded to the threat but it has now reached that point whereby we have to try and turn the tide. We have to look at alternatives, such as rehabilitation and treatment rather than prosecution for those who view low-level indecent images but are assessed not to pose a threat of physical rape or sexual abuse.
“This would give us the capacity to deal with the scale and volume of abuse that the police, Crown Prosecution Service and courts are now consistently dealing with. This would enable us to focus our resources on targeting those who are a danger to children with the strongest criminal justice response, while providing a balanced and proportionate approach outside the courts to those who pose little threat.”
CC Bailey suggests that those who are not judged to pose a physical risk are still investigated and arrested but that they could be given a conditional caution that enforces rehabilitation with an organisation like the Lucy Faithful Foundation. They would still be put on the sex offenders register so that they would be monitored and managed through multi-agency safeguarding arrangements. This option should only be available after a thorough risk assessment and in cases where offenders did not have the potential to be in contact with children.
CC Bailey is raising a proposal for debate and not setting out any changes to the police approach, which would need careful consideration and consultation across the criminal justice system and by Parliament.
Academic research commissioned by the NPCC estimated that police would investigate 70,000 cases of child sexual abuse in 2015 – 80 per cent increase on 2012.
NSPCC study in late 2016 used figures which suggested the number of individuals looking at such images could exceed half a million.