Online child abuse could spike during the Covid-19 crisis, warns NCA

A 20-year-old barman was recently sentenced to nine months in prison for making and uploading over 45,000 child abuse images on the Dark Web, over 36,000 of which belong to the worst category A level.

Ethan Chapman was arrested by officers from the National Crime Agency in Darlington in August 2018 following an investigation that unearthed 45,651 deleted child abuse images of which 36,186 belonged to the worst category A level.

The NCA found that Chapman used the Dark Web and various anonymisation techniques to hide his true identity. He also admitted that he made indecent images of children. While over 36,000 images were of the worst category A level, 8,831 were of category B and 634 of category C level.

In March, the Teeside Crown Court sentenced Chapman to only nine months in jail suspended from eighteen months after he admitted to three counts of cybercrime. He was also put on the sex offenders register for five years and given a five-year sexual harm prevention order.

“Every child in an abuse image is revictimised when the photograph is viewed or shared. Chapman’s use of the dark web shows a degree of sophistication and a determination to avoid law enforcement detection. Dark web child sex offenders – some of whom are the very worst offenders – cannot hide from law enforcement,” said Graham Ellis, NCA operations manager.

"Offenders are discussing opportunities to abuse children during the Covid 19 crisis"

The NCA and the UK police arrest more than 500 child abuse offenders every month and safeguard over 700 children. However, since schools are now closed due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the number of child safety concerns reported through the Child Exploitation and Online Protection website remained the same.

“While there has been decreased reporting from professionals, such as teachers and social workers, the level of reports from children has remained stable. There has been no delay in how the agency triages and responds to these reports. But the NCA also knows from online chat that offenders are discussing opportunities to abuse children during the Covid 19 crisis,” said NCA.

“Child sexual abuse remains a priority threat for the agency at this difficult time. Though we are working around the virus like everyone else, we are continuing to pursue high-risk online offenders to ensure they are arrested and children are safeguarded,” said NCA director of threat leadership, Rob Jones.

“Preventing offences occurring is always crucial and now more so than ever when there are masses of online traffic and a possible elevated threat to children. We are redoubling our efforts to promote our online safety messages to children, parents, carers, and teachers and are working with partners to keep children safe.

“We have long said that we want the tech industry to do more to protect children. The advice and activities on our Thinkuknow website are really important and easily built into homeschooling programmes,” he added.

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