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1.4.9 Child Abuse and Information Communication Technology

For further reading, go to the Child Exploitation and On-Line Protection Centre (CEOP) which can be found at the CEOP website. The CEOP is part of the National Crime Agency. It works to protect children, families and society from paedophiles and sex offenders - in particular those who seek to exploit children sexually online.

RELATED GUIDANCE

Child Online Safety: a Practical Guide for Parents and Carers whose Children are using Social Media

Coram Children’s Legal Centre LawStuff is run by Coram Children’s Legal Centre and gives free legal information to young people on a range of different issues. See Children’s Rights in the Digital World, in particular.

RELATED CHAPTER

ACPO: Young People who post Self-Taken Indecent Images

E-Safety - Social Media Guidance

AMENDMENT

In October 2017, this chapter was updated and now includes information on ‘outcome 21’. Where young people are voluntarily sending/sharing sexual images or content with one another the police may use this new recording code to record that a crime has been committed but that it is not considered to be in the public interest to take criminal action against the people involved. This chapter also links to LawStuff which is run by Coram Children’s Legal Centre and gives free legal information to young people on a range of different issues.


Contents

  1. The Internet
  2. Child Abuse and the Adult
  3. Sexual Offences Act 2003 (as amended) and Grooming
  4. Guidance upon the Discovery of Indecent Images of Children
  5. Referral and Strategy Discussion
  6. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry
  7. Actions to be taken where an Employee has Concerns about a Colleague


1. The Internet

As technology develops, the Internet and its range of content services can be accessed through various devices including mobile phones, text messaging and mobile camera phones as well as computers and game consoles. As a consequence the Internet has become a significant tool in the distribution of indecent/pseudo photographs and video clips of children and young people.

Internet chat rooms, discussion forums and bulletin boards are used as a means of contacting children with a view to grooming them for inappropriate or abusive relationships, which may include requests to make and transmit pornographic images of themselves or to perform sexual acts live in front of a web cam.

Contacts made initially in a chat room are likely to be carried on via email, instant messaging services, mobile phone and text messaging. There is also a growing cause for concern about the exposure of children to inappropriate material via interactive communication technology e.g. adult pornography and extreme forms of obscene material.

Where young people are voluntarily sending/sharing sexual images or content with one another the police may use the recently introduced ‘outcome 21’ recording code to record that a crime has been committed but that it is not considered to be in the public interest to take criminal action against the people involved. This reduces stigma and distress for children and help to minimise the long term impact of the situation.

See Briefing note: Police action in response to youth produced sexual imagery (‘Sexting’) (College of Policing).


2. Child Abuse and the Adult

There is some evidence that people found in possession of indecent photographs/pseudo photographs or films/videos of children may now or in the future be involved directly in child abuse themselves. When someone is discovered to have placed or accessed such material on the Internet, the Police should consider the potential likelihood that the individual is involved in the active abuse of children. 

In particular, the individual’s access to children should be established within the family, within employment contexts and in other settings such as voluntary work with children or other positions of trust.

It should be borne in mind that any indecent, obscene image involving a child has, by its very nature, involved a person, who in creating that image has been party to abusing that child.


3. Sexual Offences Act 2003 (as amended) and Grooming

Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence for a person (A) aged 18 or over to meet intentionally, or to travel with the intention of meeting a child under 16 in any part of the world, if he has met or communicated with that child on at least one earlier occasion, and intends to commit a “relevant offence” against that child either at the time of the meeting or on a subsequent occasion. An offence is not committed if (A) reasonably believes the child to be 16 or over (this was amended by the Serious Crime Act 2015, so that it is now an offence for an adult to arrange to meet with someone under 16 having communicated with them on just one occasion - previously it was on at least two occasions).

The section is intended to cover situations where an adult (A) establishes contact with a child through for example, communications on the internet and gains the child’s trust and confidence so that he can arrange to meet the child for the purpose of committing a “relevant offence” against the child.

The course of conduct prior to the meeting that triggers the offence may have an explicitly sexual content, such as (A) entering into conversations with the child about sexual acts he wants to engage him/her in when they meet, or sending images of adult pornography. However, the prior meetings or communication need not have an explicitly sexual content and could for example simply be (A) giving swimming lessons or meeting him/her incidentally through a friend.

The offence will be complete either when, following the earlier communication, (A) meets the child or travels to meet the child with the intent to commit a relevant offence against the child. The intended offence does not have to take place.

The evidence of (A’s) intent to commit an offence may be drawn from the communications between (A) and the child before the meeting or may be drawn from other circumstances, for example if (A) travels to the meeting with ropes, condoms and lubricants.

Subsection (2) (a) provides that (A’s) previous meetings or communications with the child can have taken place in or across any part of the world. This would cover for example (A) emailing the child from abroad, (A) and the child speaking on the telephone abroad, or (A) meeting the child abroad. The travel to the meeting itself must at least partly take place in England or Wales or Northern Ireland.

Offence of Sexual Communication with a Child

The Serious Crime Act 2015 has introduced an offence of sexual communication with a child. This applies to an adult who communicates with a child and the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual and the adult reasonably believes the child to be under16 years of age.


4. Guidance upon the Discovery of Indecent Images of Children

As many professionals working within different organisations have increased access to the Internet or World Wide Web, therefore the opportunity for computer misuse also grows.

All organisations within the Safeguarding Children Group, should have clear set policies and procedures in place, backed up with guidance and training, addressing the issue of employees accessing illegal child pornography. Managers should have a clear understanding of what procedure to follow should they be informed that one of their staff members is suspected of accessing such images on a works computer.

It is a criminal act under Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 for any person to make and distribute indecent images of children. These are arrestable offences.

Upon the receipt of any information concerning a person or persons suspected of this kind of activity, the department head should notify the Police (Child and Public Protection Unit) immediately. No downloading or distribution of any images should be completed, either internally or externally within the organisation, as this will leave the individuals responsible open to criminal investigation.

The computer should be left and not used by anyone, allowing this to be seized as evidence for forensic examination by the Police. The details of all persons having access to the computer should be made available to allow a clear evidence trail to be established.


5. Referral and Strategy Discussion

Where there is suspected or actual evidence of anyone accessing or creating indecent images of children, this must be referred to the Police and Children’s Social Care Services - see Section 6, Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry.

Where there are concerns about a child being groomed, exposed to pornographic material or contacted by someone inappropriately, via the Internet or other ICT tools like a mobile phone, referrals should be made to the Police and to Children’s Social Care Services.

Due to the nature of this type of abuse and the possibility of the destruction of evidence, the referrer should first discuss their concerns with the Police and Children’s Social Care Services before raising the matter with the family. This will enable a joint decision to be made about informing the family and ensuring that the child’s welfare is safeguarded.

All such reports should be taken seriously. Most referrals will be followed by a Statutory Assessment and information should be shared between the Police and Children’s Social Care Services in order to determine whether a Strategy Discussion should take place. 

A Strategy Discussion and any Section 47 Enquiry must carefully consider:

  • Is there a child at immediate risk of Significant Harm e.g. the child in the image or a child in the household?
  • What is the impact on the child in the image/in the household in terms of risks and their needs?
  • Are there other children visiting the household? What is the impact on them? 
  • Is the child about to meet with the person inappropriately contacting them?
  • Is the person accessing images or creating them in contact with children in their workplace?
  • Is the person inappropriately contacting the child in contact with children in their workplace?
  • Is the person accessing or creating images involved in voluntary work, youth work or any other activity involving positions of trust?
  • Is the person inappropriately contacting the child involved in voluntary work, youth work or any other activity involving a position of trust?
  • What is the timescale for a forensic investigation of any computer equipment?
  • If the person is to be investigated, how should their contact with children be managed in the meantime, in the workplace and/or at home?
  • Should other procedures, such as the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure be triggered?
  • Is the other parent or any other carer in the household able to protect the child? What support networks do they have?
  • What are the implications of the likely delay in the criminal investigations?

Intervention should be continually under review if further evidence comes to light.


6. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry

Where the enquiries have revealed that there are children in the household or in regular contact with the household about whom there are concerns of continuing risk of Significant Harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened within 15 working days of the last Strategy Discussion.

Where there are no children identified as at continuing risk of significant harm in relation to the adult, the Police will continue with investigations in order to establish the identity of the child/ren in the images if at all possible. The National Police Child Abuse and Internet Specialist Services will be informed as appropriate.

Where there are no children identified in the adult’s household or immediate home environment but the adult is in contact with children in other settings such as work or other activities, the relevant procedure such as the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure should be followed.

Where the person, who is alleged to have accessed or created the indecent images or groomed another child, is a child, action under the Abuse by Children and Young People Procedure should be considered.


7. Actions to be taken where an Employee has Concerns about a Colleague

Where an employee has either information or reason to suspect that a colleague is accessing indecent images of children, the following procedures must be followed:

  1. The employee with the concerns must inform his/her own line manager the same working day;
  2. Where the concerns are about the line manager, then the employee should go straight to the next in line senior manager, or any other senior manager, within the same working day;
  3. The manager who receives the information should ensure the computer in question is appropriately secured, and that it is not used by any other employee;
  4. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) must be contacted the same day;
  5. Where an employee does not feel confident in informing any available line manager, then the agency’s own whistle-blowing procedures should be used;
  6. The LADO and the manager will ensure that the Police Child & Public Protection Unit is contacted and actions agreed the same working day;
  7. Identified senior managers will discuss and agree appropriate immediate actions regarding the employee subject to the allegations. There should be liaison with the LADO and the views of the police should be canvassed to inform the decision;
  8. The Local Authority Designated Officer will ensure the Child Protection Procedures are followed, including the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure, where appropriate.

End