The offences relating to the accessing of child abuse images and other indecent images online are found in the Protection of Children Act 1978, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. In more serious cases, offences contained in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 may also be charged.
The accessibility of indecent images online has drawn the attention of law enforcement agencies, resulting in complex and far-reaching criminal investigations by both the National Crime Agency (NCA) and police forces across the UK. Recently, the use of secret software during Operation Notarise, that tracks peer-to-peer sharing of illegal images, resulted in the identification of over 25,000 individuals suspected of accessing child abuse images online, 660 of whom were arrested.
The difficulties of investigating and identifying those suspected of accessing child abuse images has resulted in the NCA examining new techniques for gathering and sharing intelligence, particularly following reported failings of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) to share information on suspects with the police. Yet the scale of alleged offending means not all suspects are investigated, with attention being focused on those in positions of trust, such as doctors and teachers.
The priority that is being given to investigating those in positions of trust, such as health care professionals, social workers and police officers, can have particularly damaging consequences. As well as facing criminal proceedings, they may also face fitness to practise investigations that may result in suspension and loss of livelihood. Read our Sexual Offences FAQs.
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