Webwatch: Would-be offenders ‘incited’ to create abuse images to access dark web

“Welcome, you’re normal, we’ve been waiting for you” is the message would-be offenders are receiving from child abuse forums on the dark web.

Rob Jones, director of threat leadership at the National Crime Agency (NCA), said internet users are increasingly being incited to create new child abuse images in order to gain entry to private sites where this material is routinely shared.

The spread of child abuse imagery is also being increasingly monetised through live streaming, he said, adding that they are seeing children in developing countries offering images of themselves up in exchange for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

He told the Tackling Exploitation conference in Birmingham: “There was a time where people said the internet was lighting up, gave an insight into people that were out there, that were always in the community, that were always going to be child abusers.

“Personally, I think it’s very different now.

“I think the problem is being fed, we are creating offenders, and we are creating child abusers because they are able to explore their interest, they are able to amplify their behaviour with like-minded individuals on the internet, and it’s a very different picture to what we had many years ago, where if you wanted to abuse a child you had to get into a position of trust, if you wanted images of children you had to cross the border and go to Holland.

“There was a whole range of gauntlets that you had to run.

“Now, that entry level for offenders is right down there,” he said, gesturing to his feet.

“It’s the search engine on your PC, on your mobile device. And it’s that easy – you’re in.”

Every month, work by the police and NCA against online child sexual abuse results in more than 500 arrests and 700 children protected.

Mr Jones warned that law enforcement is increasingly encountering people who are consuming images and meeting like-minded people online who then encourage them to carry out physical abuse.

He added: “That is really, really bad, because that individual will tell them they are normal and they will rationalise their behaviour.

“That rationalisation of their behaviour and, ‘Welcome, you’re normal, we’ve been waiting for you’ is the message that comes out from a lot of these special interest groups who are advocating more contact abuse.”

Out of 144,000 UK accounts registered on the most harmful dark web sites, he believes there are several thousand people “highly motivated” to commit sexual abuse of children, film and share that content.

He cited the case of Tashan Gallagher, who viewed images for more than two years before he was encouraged to abuse a child in order to gain access to a private online group.

Gallagher went on to rape a baby girl and assault a two-year-old child, and was jailed in March.

“There’s lots of people like Gallagher. My fear is they are becoming the new normal,” Mr Jones added.

He continued: “I’m really confident there are thousands of UK offenders on the dark web actively advocating the rape of children, pre-verbal children, ever younger children, in forums which are sadistic and harmful and create an environment where this behaviour is normalised and rationalised.

“We need to get these people because they are telling people that if they want to come into their forums, they have to rape a child, produce an image and then they will let them in. There is a direct causal link between these people and new abuse.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Yui Mok / PA Wire.