Twenty-five people have been arrested at addresses across Northern Ireland in relation to child sexual exploitation, it has been revealed today (Friday).
And there are likely to more arrests to follow, as the National Crime Agency and PSNI warns those who would sexually exploit children that “there is no hiding place”.
So far four people have been charged and moves made to safeguard and protect 32 children deemed to be at risk.
This is the first joint investigation by the PSNI and the National Crime Agency into child sexual exploitation.
The ongoing operation, which targets people accessing indecent images of children online, stayed covert until today (Friday) in order to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence.
To date, 25 people have been arrested during the five month operation. Charging decisions are pending in most cases because of ongoing enquiries but so far charges include making, possessing and distributing indecent images of children.
The NCA and the PSNI are not revealing the tactics used to track down suspects so that they can use the same methodology in the future.
NCA’s CEOP Command Zoe Hilton: “The aim of this operation is to protect children who are victims of, or might be at risk of, sexual exploitation. Online images are not a ‘lesser’ form of abuse.
“Every child in those images has been sexually abused, and every time someone looks at an image that child is victimised again. Knowing those images are out there has a devastating impact on victims.
“Some of the people who start by accessing indecent images online go on to sexually assault children directly, but not all do. That is why, as well as bringing offenders to justice, we want to prevent potential abuse taking place by stopping people from crossing that line.
“Be in no doubt that we can police the internet. It is not a safe haven for accessing indecent images of children, and if you do it you should expect to come to our attention.”
Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke, Head of the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch, said: “Tackling the abuse of children is a priority for us and this joint operation with our colleagues in NCA has helped ensure those who pose a threat to children are apprehended and brought before the courts.
“There is this perception that this sort of child abuse goes on elsewhere, not in Northern Ireland, but we do have very dangerous offenders in Northern Ireland and this joint operation with NCA further enhances our ongoing efforts to protect children and bring offenders to justice.
“This is a despicable crime against children. The PSNI and our colleagues in NCA have been working hard together, using a range of investigative techniques to ensure all opportunities are maximised to protect children from harm online and offline and bring offenders to justice and we will continue to do so.
“The message is clear for those who continue to exploit children online. You leave a digital footprint when you are downloading, viewing, making indecent images of children and we have the capacity, capability and determination to catch you and bring you to justice.”
The NCA offers Support and Advice to the public:
If you have concerns about a child or young person, or if you are a child or young person and someone has asked you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable either on or offline, tell police or a trusted adult. You can ring the police on 101, or 999 in an emergency. You can also report it through the CEOP safety centre at www.ceop.police.uk
If you receive any inappropriate images or links, it is important that you do not forward it to anyone else. Contact police or tell a trusted adult immediately. By doing this you could help prevent further such incidents.
CEOP’s Thinkuknow programme provides information for children, young people, parents and carers about staying safe online and preventing sexual abuse and exploitation. Parents and carers can visit Thinkuknow for advice on keeping their children safe.
If you are a child and you want to speak to someone in confidence about any issue that is upsetting you, you can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 or visit the Childline website to chat to a counsellor in confidence.
If you are an adult and you have concerns about a child you can speak to the NSPCC adult helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email email@example.com
If you need help in an emergency, you should call police on 999.
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is a registered child protection charity dedicated to reducing the risk of children being sexually abused. It works with entire families affected by sexual abuse, including adult male and female sexual abusers, young people with inappropriate sexual behaviours, victims of abuse, and other family members.
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