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YouTube abuse and the need for statutory regulation: Victoria Derbyshire and Channel 4 News

There has been lots of coverage of the use of YouTube by paedophiles making abusive and sexual comments about children in videos and sometimes encouraging children to take harmful actions (like sit on each others’ faces) for their own sexual gratification.

These comments are repulsive and clearly against YouTube’s own policies, but those policies don’t seem to be enforced. YouTube’s own “Trusted Flaggers” have been reporting these comments for months, with virtually no action taken until the media got involved.

I went on the Victoria Derbyshire Show, Sky News and Channel 4 News to talk about this on 24 November.

This cavalier attitude to child safety shows that the internet companies can’t be trusted to make their own homework any longer. They are not taking the needs of children seriously and they must be forced to, by the Government.

We’ve been arguing that the Internet companies should be forced to sign up to a statutory code of practice, to make sure that their services are safe for children to use.

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Abuse of Positions of Trust: BBC Radio London Breakfast

I spoke yesterday on the BBC Radio London Breakfast Show about the abuse of trust when an adult youth leader, sports coach or religious leader has sex with children in their care.

It is of course illegal for teachers, care workers and a few others to have sex with 16 and 17 year-old children in their care. The law recognises that there is a total imbalance of power in these situations and children should be protected from this kind of abuse.

But this kind of protection doesn’t extend to children in after-school clubs, youth groups or sports clubs. It seems crazy, but it is perfectly legal for adult leaders to groom children (sometimes for many years) and then initiate sex with them as soon as they turn sixteen.

These situations are at least as trusting as those between teachers and pupils and are often more intimate. Youth leaders will often help to solve children’s personal problems, provide advice or support and help the young person find their way in life. The many excellent volunteers up and down the country do a fantastic job, focussed on helping these children develop and grow.

Our campaign Trust to Lead is calling for children to be protected from abuse of trust in these situations, just as they are in the classroom.

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Operation Sanctuary: Channel 5 News and Good Morning Britain

Last week I appeared on Channel 5 News and Good Morning Britain to talk about Operation Sanctuary, a police operation which has put an end to a terrible  cycle of child sexual exploitation in and around Newcastle.

The facts of the case are terrible, and familiar. A group of men, working mostly in the night-time economy (takeaway owners, taxi drivers etc), made friends with young women and girls, plying them with drink and drugs. They then took them to “parties” where the girls were expected to have sex with the men in return. The girls were isolated from their families and made to believe that their abusers were their boyfriends, their protectors. This has been seen time and time again: Rochdale, Oxford, Rotherham and many other places.

Make no mistake. This was vile abuse of vulnerable young women and girls, pure and simple. I am overjoyed that theNorthumbria Police took action and was able to break the ring. It was a mammoth investigation and there are more cases yet to come. Children and young women are safer because of this operation.

But the police’s use of a child rapist as a paid informant doesn’t sit right with me. It’s not the payments – the hire of criminals to catch criminals is well established. But specifically the use of a man who had abused exactly these kinds of vulnerable young women and girls before. His use arguably put the victims at greater risk, and he proved to be neither reliable, nor controllable. He claims he went to these “parties”, despite police instructions not to. And he was arrested for further offences even while he was operating undercover.

This has dragged attention away from the real issue at the centre this case: whether the victims – the very vulnerable young girls and women – will get the help and support they need to get their lives back on track.

 

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Child Sex Dolls: BBC Radio 5 Live

I appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live this week to talk about why possession, production and distribution of child sex dolls should be banned. Currently it is illegal to import these dolls, but perfectly legal to own or sell them.

These dolls usually have the height and weight of a child aged about 6 or 7, they have the facial features of a child and their bodies resemble that of a pre-pubescent. They are marketed for use as sex dolls and are often accompanied by accessories that further indicate their resemblance to children: pink blankets, toys and combs. They are widely available online, inlacing on mainstream sites such as Amazon and eBay.

Some, like StopSo have argued that these dolls could be used to help paedophiles keep their urges in check and prevent offending. In fact, the evidence points the other way. Of the seven offenders who have been prosecuted for importation of these dolls, six have also had child sex abuse images in their possession.

In my view, these dolls may help normalise the idea of sex with children in the minds of these offenders, and may lead to them committing offences directly against children in the future. This is exactly why we criminalise the possession and distribution of child sexual abuse imagery. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest they could be useful to prevent offending, and suggesting it in such a public way will allow offenders to start “medicalising” their urges, distancing themselves from any need to take responsibility for their behaviour and seek help.

For me, it is clear that these child sex dolls should not be legal to own, produce or sell. The National Crime Agency and Border Force are doing great work in seizing these dolls where they can. In the meantime, the sites which sell them, including the mainstream ones noted above, should remove them from sale immediately.

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Online Grooming: Channel 5 News

Earlier this evening, Channel 5 News ran an excellent piece about the NSPCC campaign Flaw in the Law to protect children from sexual messages sent by adults. I spoke about the campaign and how pleased we are that the Government is finally moving to protect children.

It features the mother of Breck Bednar and other terrible cases of online grooming. I’m always amazed at the bravery of victims and their families who come forward to be part of these campaigns.