Clamping down on Child Sexual Abuse online

While there is so much more to Christmas than exchanging presents many of us will be. I suspect a new phone or tablet will feature on ‘wish lists’ of presents, especially for children and young people. Of course access to the internet can be hugely beneficial in many ways.

The unpalatable and unavoidable truth is that technology has made vile child sexual abuse and exploitation content vastly easier to find – and easier to participate in — through peer-to-peer file sharing, chatrooms and online forums.

And it has created conduits that enable abusers to search out and make contact with their victims in new ways.

The National Crime Agency tells me it is quite simply one of the most dangerous and harmful threats we face. Since 2013, there has been an exponential surge — a 700 per cent increase — in the number of indecent images of children that technology companies are alerting us to, so that we can identify the offenders and try to track down the children being abused.

Each month, there are more than 400 arrests and over 500 children being protected through coordinated action by the NCA and UK police against online child sexual exploitation.

Barnardo’s has told us that in the last six months of 2016, nearly half of the children it had supported had been groomed online — that is 297 children. Of these 182 had met their online groomer and suffered sexual abuse. So those are some of the statistics. But let me put a human face, a child’s face, to them.

Breck Bednar, from Surrey, was a 14-year-old who loved technology and gaming online, who his mother said never swore or yelled.

An excellent student and brother to three younger siblings, triplets who looked up to him and adored him.

But it was through this gaming that in 2014 he was groomed and lured to his death — suffering a sexual assault and fatal stab wound, miles from home, at the predator’s flat.

The grief of his parents is unfathomable. They do such important work now, warning of online dangers, through The Breck Foundation, set up in their son’s memory to make everyone aware how to keep safe online through education and empowerment.

Predatory paedophiles will try to approach vulnerable children (the average age of a child groomed online is 13) by, for example, chatting on a forum connected with a game application, or making an approach through Instagram, Snapchat or WhatsApp.

Then there are other sites like MyLoL — which disturbingly markets itself as a “teenage dating application” and allows anyone aged 13 to 25 to sign up.

There is virtual reality too. Earlier this year a man pleaded guilty to attempting to engage in sexual activity with children on at least 500 occasions.

His chosen conduit was MovieStarPlanet — a popular website for children to pretend to be film stars in a virtual world.

With the initial approach, there might be an accompanying message, perhaps about the victim’s profile picture, seeking to establish a rapport, which the offender will then exploit to eventually elicit indecent images of the child.

Having approached the child on one social networking site, the offender will then often intentionally and systemically move from one online platform to another, switching to “private” one-to-one communication methods such as Skype or live video chat services including Periscope.

All of us — parents, law enforcement, schools, peers — have a role to play in keeping our children safe online.

Government has given a further £20million over three years through the Police Transformation Fund to law enforcement working undercover online in forums and chatrooms, to identify and disrupt the threat of online grooming. I recently visited our Regional and Organised Crime Unit to see this essential work myself.

But it is with absolute urgency that I call on internet companies to also go further and also go faster in tackling online child sexual abuse.

We need them to bring their resources and technical expertise to help us turn the tide on this horrendous scourge. It is their moral duty.

We have worked closely with industry as they have found ways to identify and take down child abuse images through the “digital fingerprint” created of these images. This is incredibly important, and we need to turn the heat up under it.

So, we know that when industry innovates and collaborates, solutions are possible. We need them to do exactly the same in finding ways to interrupt that journey between abuser and victim.

None of us ever want another family to have to go through what Breck’s did.

First published in the Falmouth Wave


Tackling Homelessness in Truro

Last week I met with the primary local agencies that have the responsibility of tackling the antisocial and criminal behaviour of a small group of people camped out in the centre of Truro.

This has been going on for too long. Last Autumn, I welcomed the Mayor of Truro’s initiative of getting all the organisations that have the resources to help rough-sleepers and tackle people committing antisocial behaviour, including street drinking, around the same table to develop a coordinated action plan. There are lessons to be learned from other places where effective partnerships have tackled similar problems, so I provided information and details of additional funding opportunities.

Keeping the city centre safe and an enjoyable place for all members of our community is not the sole responsibility of our local Police, it requires effective partnership working between Cornwall Council, our local NHS, local businesses and the wider civil society of Truro.

I am frustrated that the problems people have been facing for months now have yet to resolved. There has been progress but there remains a small group of people, who I am told are refusing help and continuing their anti social behaviour. St Petroc’s are offering support in their Truro night shelter.

In order for the Police to take further action, to secure prosecutions for anti social behaviour, they need more people who have experienced or witnessed the anti social behaviour to come forward and tell them about it. People convicted of committing antisocial behaviour crimes who have alcohol or drug abuse problems can have their punishment linked to participation in therapeutic activities to reduce this harm to themselves and society.

You can email the Truro Police directly from the Devon and Cornwall website or call 101 or speak to one of the officers on the beat.

First published in the West Briton 11 January 2017

The Government’s support for the Istanbul Convention shouldn’t come as a surprise

Earlier this month, in a Commons debate on violence against women and girls, I was profoundly moved to hear several of my fellow MPs share their own deeply personal experiences of these horrendous crimes.

I commended then, as I do now, their courage in standing up to share these harrowing stories. Only by speaking out and confronting this kind of abuse can we begin to ensure that all women and girls are protected from violence and that those who would cause them harm are brought to justice.

In 2012, the Government signed the Istanbul Convention. In doing so it sent a message that perpetrators of gender-based violence had no place in a Britain that works for everyone, and that victims and survivors could count on our care and support.

Next Steps

Today, the Government supported a Private Members Bill underlining our commitment to take further steps to ratify that Convention. This should come as no surprise as we have always been clear in our support for the Istanbul Convention and its important role in prompting action against gender-based violence around the world.

To comply fully with the Convention we must first amend our laws on extra-territorial jurisdiction, allow the prosecution of certain offences when they occur outside our national borders, and we will make these will changes as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

This Government has worked tirelessly to ensure that victims are supported, perpetrators are brought to justice and everything possible is done prevent these heinous crimes from happening in the first place. Because of these efforts I am proud to say that in nearly all areas the UK is fully compliant, and in many cases our measures go significantly further than the Convention requires.

In March we pledged increased funding of £80 million as part of the Violence Against Women and Girls strategy. New laws, including the criminalisation of forced marriage, new stalking offences and the inclusion of coercive control as a form of domestic abuse are all helping to ensure that abusers are brought to justice.

And only last week we announced the introduction of a new stalking civil protection order, which will allow police and the courts to act swiftly to protect victims in cases of ‘stranger stalking’.

The Government is also taking world-leading action against so called ‘honour-based violence’ and has greatly strengthened the laws on female genital mutilation and forced marriage. In these areas, as well as offences against children, the UK already has extra-territorial jurisdiction, ensuring we can prosecute those who seek to go abroad to commit these vile crimes.

As a world leader in tackling violence against women and girls, we are committed to ratifying the Istanbul Convention. This is a global fight that can only truly be won through global co-operation.

Until then the Government will continue to work with law enforcement agencies and communities at home and abroad to look at what more we can do to protect victims and potential victims, and bring offenders to justice.

First published in INews:

Antisocial Behaviour

I am pleased that our Police and Crime Commissioner is meeting with Cornwall Councillor and Mayor of Truro, Rob Nolan, along with the City Councillors and other organisations to discuss the current problems of antisocial and criminal behaviour from a small group of people in the centre of Truro.

Getting all the organisations that have the power and resources to help tackle antisocial behaviour and the causes of the behaviour around the same table to understand the issues and develop an action plan is a very welcome step forward. One that I believe is the most effective approach.

A few weeks ago, I raised this issue with the Chief Constable for Devon & Cornwall Police as well as the Mayor and I am pleased to see their concerted determination to work together to find solutions for all those concerned. I look forward to learning about the actions that are agreed and see progress as the plans are implemented.

Some of the perpetrators of the anti social behaviour might need help to tackle their problems, including substance abuse, and that will need to be part of the solution.

Keeping the city centre a safe and enjoyable place for all members of our community is not the sole responsibility of our local Police, it requires effective partnership working between our local NHS, Cornwall Council, local businesses and the wider civil society of Truro. This needs to include those voluntary organisations working with the most vulnerable people in our community. There are lessons to be learned from other towns in Cornwall and beyond where good partnerships have tackled similar problems really well.

I will of course provide any assistance that I can to ensure the antisocial behaviour that is currently blighting Truro is brought to an end as soon as possible.