Comment: Tackling technology in child abuse cases

RAPIST Javaid Akhond last week became the first man to be sent to jail as a result of Police Scotland’s Operation Dash.

Technological advances are making it more difficult for police to apprehend child abusers, writes Chris Marshall. Picture: Craig Stephen

The ongoing investigation, which is looking into the abuse of vulnerable young people, has already uncovered more than 50 crimes and has led to 22 people being reported to prosecutors.

The abuse, which is said to involve young people who have absconded from care, has been likened to the Rotherham scandal, where hundreds of vulnerable young people were abused over a number of years.

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Akhond’s imprisonment last week came after Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham told MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee that his officers were taking a more “proactive” approach to tackling those engaged in child sexual exploitation.

Sadly, ACC Graham said the nature of the crimes, which are being made easier to commit due to new technologies, meant many go unreported.

The children’s charity Barnardo’s Scotland said legislation introduced in 2005 had been “little used” to bring perpetrators of child sexual abuse to justice. From a range of new offences created, there had been a total of 42 prosecutions, the charity said.

But ACC Graham said the 2005 legislation “could not have conceived” of technological advances which have inadvertently aided abusers online.

Since 1 April 2013, 283 people have been charged with offences linked to their online activity. And of 1,590 reported rapes last year, around a quarter were against children.

The problem is vast and one that police are seemingly struggling to get to grips with.

A UK-wide operation by the National Crime Agency earlier this year saw more than 600 suspected paedophiles arrested as part of a crackdown on those viewing child pornography online. Doctors, teachers and former police officers were among those arrested.

Some psychologists now believe the internet and the growth of the so-called “dark web” – which includes content not listed by normal search engines – has enabled those who would not have been involved in the abuse of children in the past to act upon their urges.

While the problem continues to grow, children’s campaigners are, however, heartened by the approach the police are now taking. As ACC Graham told MSPs last week, it is now necessary for police “to go out and look for” abusers.

The assistant chief constable’s appearance in front of MSPs last week made for a rather grim appraisal of the current situation. One positive, however, was his assurance that there was nothing in Scotland on the scale of Rotherham, where vulnerable young people were abused, but also repeatedly let down by those in authority.