Coronavirus: Detective warns of predators targeting children during lockdown
CHILDREN are being blackmailed to carry out explicit sexual acts online as fears grow about internet child exploitation and abuse growing during lockdown.
Detective Inspector Phil Attwood, a specialist child abuse investigator, told The News his team are hunting predators who prey on youngsters.
More people are at home in Britain’s coronavirus lockdown and he has urged parents to report anything suspicious - and talk to their children about online activity.
Abuse and exploitation of children online during the crisis has continued - with Det Insp Attwood’s team at the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit detecting offences involving babies.
In the last year alone his team has helped local forces safeguard 181 children, and detain 141 suspects across Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Thames Valley, all involved in ‘criminalising children’.
Focus is now being put on protecting children in the lockdown with a concern - shared by Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage - that offenders will prey on more children as more youngsters are stuck at home and online.
Det Insp Attwood told The News: ‘We know more people are going to be using the internet, potentially children with parents trying to keep them busy. It just presents new risks.’
He said: ‘It’s a massive problem normally, that people are targeting children or those with access to children online, and because of the lockdown rules and the criteria for travel means there are more people at home.
‘As the lockdown continues clearly people are getting more desperate and are more likely to be using the internet for such purposes.
‘We’re trying to make people aware what sites children are going on, and looking to safeguard those children and what concerns they have.’
He added: ‘There’s similar types of crime (being committed during lockdown), those who have a sexual interest in a whole range of children from very young babies to teenagers, to everything in between.
‘There’s the odd case that varies a little bit around sextortion but they’re in the minority.’
Sextortion sees an offender demand a child carries out a sexual act or the person will release intimate images of them previously obtained.
Known offenders are being targeted along with others when their ‘online footprints’ are detected.
And Det Insp Attwood’s team is so focused on protecting victims as the damage of abuse is far-reaching across generations.
‘It has a significant psychological and potentially physical impact on those who are affected by it,’ he said.
‘It could have a generational effect with their abusing, that’s why we’re trying to get involved to do our very best to get those offenders.
‘It’s far reaching, not just to those individuals concerned but to their families.’
During lockdown offences have been carried out where ‘there’s references to babies being abused,’ he added.
Offender profiles range from teenagers up to pensioners, and a stereotyped image of an abuser is ‘not correct anymore,’ Det Insp Attwood added.