A picture of abuse

A report published by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre underlines the significant risk posed by those who possess indecent images of children (IIOC) and makes key recommendations about how police forces can manage that risk to safeguard and protect more children.

The report, ˜A Picture of Abuse', brings together current academic thinking and operational police experience in the form of case studies and practitioner debriefs, in order to better understand the risk posed by ˜image only' offenders.

The release of the report follows a force-wide police action to crack down on suspects thought to be in possession of child abuse images.

Drawing together the wealth of research currently available, the report attempts to quantify the links between those who view IIOC and those who commit contact sexual offences against children. 

The report highlights that, whilst academic research is divided, there is a clear link between the image offences and sexual contact offences.  One meta-analysis study which looked a prevalence rates between the two crime types established a correlation of 55%.

Whilst causation between the viewing of indecent images and contact sexual offences is not established, is it estimated that between 77 and 87% of convicted child sexual offenders used IIOC to stimulate themselves sexually.

The report highlights the increasing volumes of child abuse material on the internet and analysis shows that the images found in collections appear to be becoming more extreme, sadistic and violent  with victims in abuse images becoming younger and younger.

Key recommendations of the report highlight the need for police forces to prioritise investigations into IIOC, focusing on the evidence that ˜image only' offenders may also be in contact with children, raising the risk of them committing additional sexual abuse. The report calls for more resources to be allocated to dedicated victim identification teams and high-tech crime units, in order to support the highly motivated and dedicated officers working in this area.

A number of conclusions and recommendations are made, focusing on the ways in which this risk is managed by the police service and others involved in child protection and the criminal justice process:

  • There is a link between those who possess child abuse images and those who go on to commit contact sexual offences against a child, although more research is required to fully assess and quantify the link;
  • At the forefront of all indecent image possession investigations should be the notion that any case may result in the identification of a victim of contact sexual abuse.  No firm intelligence or evidence that an individual has child abuse images in their possession can ever be disregarded;
  • The size of a image collection and the severity of the abuse in the images should not be taken as the sole indicator of risk, moreover, access and opportunity to children should be taken into consideration by investigating officers;
  • The Kent Internet Risk Assessment Tool (KIRAT) is the most rigorously tested assessment tool currently available to police forces and it therefore represents good practice for the prioritizing workloads;
  • More police and child protection resources should be set aside for victim identification work from indecent image collections.

Andy Baker, Deputy Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre said: "Given the increase in child abuse images online, the increase in reports we receive into CEOP and consequently the volume of intelligence reports police forces are dealing with, this report is timely.  Understanding the risk that certain individuals pose to children is critical to those judgements made by dedicated and hard working officers working day in, day out in child protection.  And it is vitally important that police forces have the resources to deal with these crimes.

"Behind every case of possession of indecent images lies the potential that contact sexual offences are taking place.    No stone should be left unturned in order to identify and protect those children and CEOP will continue to work to support police and child protection organisations to do just that.

 ˜A Picture of Abuse' is published in a full restricted version for law enforcement only and a public version of the Executive Summary will be made available online.

CEOP website



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