Police in Wales are warning people viewing sexually explicit images of children that the next knock at their door could be officers from a new team set up to keep children safe from harm.
Operation Net Safe has been launched across Wales, with South Wales Police, Gwent Police, Dyfed Powys Police and North Wales Police taking part, with the aim of safeguarding children by detecting abuse and prosecuting offenders for the possession and distribution of indecent images of children online.
The approach brings together police officers and highly skilled digital forensics staff, to proactively seek out those using the internet to view and exchange these images in Wales.
Each week the specialist, dedicated teams use the latest digital investigative techniques to identify where in Wales illegal images are being viewed, before using the intelligence to apply to a magistrate for a search warrant to allow the police and digital forensic experts to raid a home, seize evidence and arrest those involved.
As part of the operation, Police are working closely with child protection charity, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, whose Stop it Now! Campaign directs offenders, potential offenders, and their concerned loved ones to a confidential and anonymous helpline, and self-help resources to enable them to proactively address their behaviour.
The message from each of the four police forces in Wales to online offenders and potential offenders is simple – seek the help available to you or you will be caught and brought to justice.
Alun Michael, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, said: “Operation Net Safe addresses our top priority to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
“Working with partners we aim to achieve earlier identification of offenders and victims so that we have the opportunity to intervene to stop online child abuse and exploitation, and most importantly to take prompt, positive action to safeguard victims and protect children at risk from this type of abuse.”
Since it formed on September 26th, the Paedophile Online Investigation Team have undertaken 19 separate investigations involving online child sexual abuse, freeing up the time previously spent on this type of investigation by locally based officers.
The approach has resulted in six arrests and a number of enquiries are ongoing in conjunction with the Digital & Forensic Cyber Crime Unit.
This close working relationship is proving beneficial in quickly identifying offenders that are involved in the possession and distribution of indecent images of children through effective triage processes.
South Wales Police Assistant Chief Constable Jon Drake, All Wales Lead for Child Sexual Exploitation, added: “The scale of the problem here in Wales is both shocking and saddening. Operation Net Safe will enable us to continue tackling these crimes using the latest software to identify offenders and bring them to justice.
“Mobile-based technology enables us to set up a digital forensics laboratory in the home of the suspect and examine computers, mobiles, tables and data storage devices within minutes.
“The forensics staff work with the police officers at the address to immediately secure evidence, and help build the case so a quick decision can be made in terms of charges and putting the suspect before the courts.
“This triage approach to the gathering evidence means we can take immediate action to prevent further offences and importantly put safeguarding measures in place to protect any children at risk. Ultimately that is the aim of Operation Net Safe.”
The four Welsh police forces and its partners are committed to protecting children and young people across Wales from all forms of abuse and exploitation – whether in the home, on the street or online.
ACC Jon Drake continued: “The operation has already resulted in safeguarding action being taken to protect children identified as being at risk of abuse.
“I want those in possession of, and sharing images of child abuse online, to really think about their actions. Often offenders can convince themselves that there isn’t a victim because the images already exist online and they don’t have direct contact with the children or young people involved. But those children were abused and exploited to make those images. Child sexual abuse is a crime. And so is possessing images of that abuse.”
Donald Findlater, Safeguarding Consultant at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said: “As a child protection charity, we believe it is for all adults across Wales to keep children safe from abuse. Online risks to children are most definitely increasing and our strategies to tackle them need to keep pace.
“As far as we can tell, there are hundreds, possibly thousands of people across Wales – mostly men – viewing sexual images of children online. These are mostly images of children and young people who are being abused. This behaviour is illegal, whether the viewers realise it or not. Many will have landed on this material after months or years looking at legal, adult pornography. Others will be paedophiles. Whoever they are, I urge them to stop their illegal behaviour and get the help they need to stay stopped.
“The Stop it Now! confidential helpline has worked with thousands of such men since 2002. And as well as a confidential helpline – 0808 1000 900 - we have created self-help materials for these men, and their families, that can also be accessed confidentially.”
More information about Operation Net Safe in South Wales can be found at www.south-wales.police.uk. Here you will find details of the work being done to bring offenders to justice and regular updates of action taken and any resulting court cases. We will also share these details with the public via social media under #OperationNetSafe.
Confidential information and advice is also available from Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s Stop it Now! website, www.stopitnow.org.uk, or by contacting freephone 0808 1000 900 or firstname.lastname@example.org