'Game changing' £30m boost for Scots data experts to tackle online child sex abuse

Scots experts working to combat online child sex abuse are set to get a "game changing" cash injection of £30million. Crime fighting body INTERPOL said the private funding deal will equip frontline police with skills and data to more quickly rescue children at risk of abuse and help catch more perpetrators.

The funding from the Human Dignity Foundation (HDF) and Edinburgh-based Childlight Global Child Safety Institute will be matched by INTERPOL, as threats to children escalate year on year. It comes after research from Childlight published last month revealing the lives of more than 300 million young people each year are blighted by online sexual exploitation and abuse - with reports of offences logged once every second.

In Scotland 1,928 online child sexual abuse crimes were recorded in 2022/2023, an increase of 6.6% on the five year average. The National Crime Agency said it's expected to increase again in 2024.

Dedicated online CSA enforcement teams with Digital Forensic and Intelligence Support were set up by Police Scotland in 2020 in response to rising child sexual abuse crimes. But crime fighting body INTERPOL said a lack of training and resources can mean police investigators in less than half of the 196 INTERPOL member countries currently act on data contained in its International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) image and video database.

The database, which holds more than 4.9 million images and videos and connects 68 countries, has helped identify more than 37,900 victims worldwide – at a rate of 15 identifications every day. Using image and video comparison software, the database allows investigators to instantly make connections between victims, abusers and places.

With the £30m boost INTERPOL said police will be able to ramp up its operations with more training, mentoring and access to data and 'minimum global standards'.

Paul Stanfield the CEO of Childlight, based at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Our data has identified that many frontline police are too hamstrung by a lack of resources to receive data and to act on it effectively in order to arrest abusers and protect children. This funding promises to be game changing, supercharging efforts globally to help end this nightmare for young people.”

Chair of HDF Dr John Climax said: “The sexual exploitation and abuse of children is a serious global health emergency prevalent in every country, global in nature, and growing exponentially. Police in every country must have the means to fight it.

“Now is the time for the world to work together and provide an immediate and comprehensive public health and law enforcement response because children can’t wait.”

Childlight estimates nearly 13% of the world’s children have been victims of non-consensual taking, sharing and exposure to sexual images and videos. And just over 12% are estimated to have been subject to online solicitation, such as unwanted sexual act requests by adults or other youths.

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