Regarding the increase in children committing serious sexual abuse being “normalized” online…

May 21, 2024, 6:00 a.m. | Updated: May 21, 2024, 06:11

More than half of all investigations involving a child victim are now led by other children.

More than half of all investigations involving a child victim are now led by other children.

Photo: Alamy

The Home Secretary has been warned against criminalizing a generation as LBC hears of a “significant” rise in the number of young people committing child sexual abuse.

James Cleverly met police leaders in Essex on Monday as he marked the first anniversary of a specialist taskforce, set up to tackle the grooming and sexual exploitation of children.

But police investigators and partner agencies have expressed concerns and the challenges they face over the number of young boys now committing extreme sexual acts.

The Home Secretary has been told that more than half of all investigations involving a child victim are now carried out by other children, as they see an escalation in “normalized” sexual behavior.

“The problem with sharing (explicit) images is that a lot of the kids we talk to say they see it as normal behavior whether we like it or not,” one investigator told him, “and we let’s see this escalate into more serious behavior – including in groups.

The growing number of young boys committing sex crimes has been attributed to easy access to violent pornography online.

Ian Critchley, head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council for Child Protection, said access to this type of material needed to be restricted.

James Cleverly speaks to LBC about ‘worrying’ rise in young people committing child sexual abuse

He said: “Tech companies play a huge role in this and they need to start really rising to the occasion.

“Over the past year we have seen a significant increase in peer-to-peer crime and it is very important that we understand what is behind this crime.

“I don’t want to criminalize an entire generation of young people, if they share a self-generated indecent image with another partner.

“But at the other end of the spectrum we have more children – sometimes acting in groups – committing very serious offenses of rape and sexual exploitation and, of course, we need to bring them through the criminal justice system , but also work with schools to prevent this behavior.

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Since the creation last April of the new “Grooming Gangs Taskforce”, more than 550 suspects have been arrested and more than 4,000 victims identified and protected.

Specialized training was also provided to 400 officers across the country.

James Cleverly saw a number of cases which were investigated by officers in Essex, including a 24-year-old man who had 351 alleged victims on Instagram and Snapchat, where he posed as a teenage girl.

He was jailed for 21 years and was in custody just eight months after the investigation into him began.

The Minister of the Interior was also informed of other ongoing investigations, in particular into two minors under the age of 18, which, according to the investigator, “are proving difficult” due to their age.

James Cleverly met police leaders in Essex.

James Cleverly met police leaders in Essex.

Photo: LBC

Chelmsford MP Vicky Ford, who joined the visit, suggested the law should be changed in relation to young offenders.

She said: “In recent years we have come a long way to say that when children commit crimes we must treat them as victims themselves,” but she asked: “Do we need to rethink a part of how we deal with crime? this cohort?

Speaking to LBC, however, James Cleverly says he believes the legislation is in the right place and police are receiving the appropriate training to deal with the growing threat.

“The police recognize that it is sensitive to monitor children – whether they are victims or perpetrators – but what they do not want to do is criminalize normal, healthy behavior,” he said.

“It is essential to recognize the difference between inappropriate, coercive behavior and innocent relationships between adolescents.

“We have given police the powers they now need to tackle these crimes, and the training means they are better able to identify areas where they need to be protected.

James Cleverly warned of the “criminalization of a generation”.

James Cleverly warned of the “criminalization of a generation”.

Photo: Alamy

“Children are sometimes both perpetrators and victims and we must protect them. »

Mark Russell, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “A significant number of young people are experiencing harm, both online and offline.

“This is a very complex situation and each of these cases must be treated on a case-by-case basis. I think we need to help kids in school be better educated, we need a broad program to keep kids safe online. Prevention is a very important element of this.

“We don’t want to over-criminalize children, but at the same time, if a child has committed an offense, they must be tried through the criminal justice process. »