Rise in online sex abuse shows need to improve crimefighting on net, say Police Scotland

Police say they need to boost their capabilities to hunt and catch online criminals as figures show a rise in internet child sexual abuse and fraud.

A total of 1,966 online child sex abuse crimes were logged by Police Scotland during 2020-21, a rise of nearly 6% on the previous year and nearly 25% greater than the five-year average.

The force’s performance report notes that 434 children were identified and safeguarded by officers hunting online child abusers during the period between September and March, with 277 people arrested.

The annual report shows that reported frauds increased by 38.2%, rising from 10,875 in 2019-20 to 15,031 during the last year, representing a nearly 80% jump on the five-year average.

The rise in online crimes “underlines the need for policing in Scotland to build capacity and capability in the virtual space”, said Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor.

The report notes that sexual exploitation of children “is complex and policing it on its own is not the solution”.

“By working in partnership, taking a multi-agency approach, increasing public confidence and raising public awareness, we are better placed to identify threat, manage risk and prevent harm”, it says.

The statistics cover mid-March last year until early April this year.

Elsewhere, the report notes there were 10% fewer violent crimes reported compared to the previous year, a reduction of 6,361.

There were also 55 fewer road fatalities, a decrease of one third, dropping from 165 to 110, the figures show.

DCC Taylor said: “The rise in reports of online child sexual abuse has continued and accelerated during this period, and the performance report draws attention to vital work to safeguard hundreds of children.

“Online child sexual abuse is a national threat and tackling it is a priority for Police Scotland.

“The implementation of our cyber strategy will ensure we continue to build capacity and capability to keep people safe in the virtual space.”

The figures also show “acquisitive crime”, like house break-ins and shoplifting, fell by nearly one fifth (18%) year on year, from 109,460 to 89,731.

The report comes after it was revealed assaults on police officers and workers increased overall by 6.3% in 2020-21 compared to the previous year, with 6,942 attacks recorded.

DCC Taylor said: “As restrictions ease, we will continue to report on changes to the policing requirements of communities and the challenge of maintaining higher detection rates in the context of reported crime which is closer to pre-pandemic levels, as well as increasing demand in areas such as fraud and online child abuse.”

The 2020-21 performance report will be presented to the Scottish Police Authority’s Policing Performance Committee next Tuesday.

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