Tuesday 13 January 2004

Web wrongly blamed for child-sex offence explosion

Lazy hacks and ignorant charity lay into the internet...

Children's charity NCH has today blamed the internet for a 1500 per cent increase in child-porn related offences.

Its figures reveal that 549 child-porn offenders were charged or cautioned in 2001, compared with only 35 in 1988.

And that's all the evidence the charity felt it needed to start whipping up a storm of anti-internet propaganda, which was doubtless music to the ears of the lazy hacks on the Daily Mail and other even-handed rags that are always willing to blame 'newfangled' technology for all society's ills.

There are also claims flying around that 3G mobile phones are likely to make matters even worse. There's no evidence to support that claim, but it makes for good copy.

Examining the figures further, however, it's worth pointing out that until 1988, the law on possessing child pornography was very different - hence the apparently arbitrary year chosen to compare to the present. Until this time, being in possession of child pornography was not illegal, and subsequent enforcement of new laws may not have been as rigorous as it is now. We are not comparing like with like.

Then consider the fact that these figures could actually be construed as good news. The fact that 549 child-porn offenders were charged or cautioned compared to 38 is a victory of sorts for law enforcement. The internet hasn't created paedophiles; these higher contemporary figures merely portray the number of offenders who previously may have been escaping detection. You can bet there were not only 38 offenders in 1988 and 549 in 2001 - these are merely percentages of a far more concerning figure.

To say the numbers of those caught have increased solely because of the internet also detracts from efforts by the UK police force to stamp out child pornography. More people are being caught because the police are working far harder and far more efficiently to catch them.

While the research from the NCH deals specifically with child-porn related offences, there is an implication that the rise of child porn on the internet has led to a rise in instances of what it calls "hands-on" abuse.

We can only hope NCH isn't claiming for one minute that the internet has actually created more paedophiles - but that would appear to be the suggestion.

While it is clear that the internet has provided a channel for procuring and sharing pornographic images, it is unlikely that it has had any impact on the actual numbers or proclivities of child-sex offenders.

The ignorance inherent in suggesting people have been encouraged to take up child abuse because of the ubiquity of the internet is alarming.

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