That 660 people across the UK have been arrested for paedophile offences may come as a shock, but we should also take from it some reassurance.
During a six-month operation targeting people accessing images of child abuse online, officers placed into protection more than 400 children. This work did not just call to account those who use child pornography, it came to the aid of vulnerable young people.
Those arrested do not necessarily conform to the comforting stereotype of the predatory outsider. Instead, they include doctors, teachers, Scout leaders, care workers and former police officers; paedophiles concealed in plain sight, disguised as pillars of the community.
The internet has made it easier for child pornography to be distributed. Users of so-called “dark net” file-sharing systems operate under the radar, their online identities protected.
But the success of this latest operation shows that the internet is also a valuable tool in tracking down offenders. Hiding places online may not be quite so secure as some imagine.
The results of the operation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) are a great credit to the investigating officers, many of whom will have had to view the most disturbing images of child abuse during the past six months. The NCA’s deputy director, Phil Gormley, described how unprecedented co-operation between forces had helped deliver the outcomes announced yesterday.
But this single operation, successful as it appears to have been, will not stop the abuse of children for the gratification of others.
This is why the NCA’s work in this area should not be allowed now to slow down.
It scarcely requires explaining that behind every image of child abuse is an actual incident, a life-destroying moment, perhaps the latest in a terrifying string of sexual assaults. Among those arrested were a suspect who shared footage of himself abusing a child with others in an online group, and a man who was already accused of the rape of a 13-year-old girl.
The NCA’s plan over the past six months has been to catch those at risk of making the transition from viewing images of child abuse to carrying out attacks themselves.
It may well be that officers have done that. But we would be naive to think that the arrests carried out expose much more than the tip of an iceberg. Many abusers are still able to hide.
There can be few more important roles for law enforcement officers than the protection of vulnerable children.
The NCA’s success in tracking down hundreds of paedophiles and protecting hundreds of children is to be lauded.
But it is also a reminder of the extent to which these despicable crimes take place and of the importance of continued police focus on bringing abusers to justice.
Why recovery doesn’t yet feel real
SCOTLAND’S economic recovery – and new statistics published yesterday show it to be complete – is to be welcomed, but it may not seem real to the average worker.
Our GDP has grown faster than the UK as a whole, and output is now 0.4 per cent greater than its pre-recession level. But tiny – or non-existent – wage rises mean that the cost of living continues to be uncomfortably high for many.
Yesterday’s statistics show that, over the three months until May, Scotland’s jobless total rose by 13,000 to 192,000, while employment also increased by 12,000 over the same period.
These findings, the Scottish Government said, indicated an increasing number of people were entering the jobs market. There may be more work available, but it’s far from enough to meet growing demand.
Finance secretary John Swinney gave an understandably optimistic response to the statistics which, he said, pointed to the recovery in Scotland gathering momentum.
It is certainly true that accelerating GDP growth is to be welcomed. But this is the foundation of an ongoing process. Unemployment in Scotland is running at a higher rate than it is across the UK – 6.9 per cent compared to 6.5 per cent – and household budgets continue to tighten. There is much further to travel.
Economist John McLaren yesterday urged a little perspective, saying the latest figures did not illustrate a huge achievement but highlighted how badly the country’s economy had been affected by the recession. But the truth is that, until the effects of economic growth trickle down into pay packets, times will continue to feel tough.