If Google Is in the Dock about Child Sex Abuse, Then So Are Judges

Article excerpt

Stuart Hall

It is important to put the Stuart Hall case into its full context. Earlier this week, the elderly TV celebrity was jailed for 15 months for sexually assaulting young girls during the 1970 and 1980s. It comes after Jimmy Savile. It comes before trials of other celebrities for alleged sexual misconduct. And it should be read with two recent murder cases.

Mark Bridger, who was sentenced to life for the murder of five- year-old April Jones in Machynlleth, Powys, had been searching the internet for child abuse and rape images. And police who examined the Croydon home of Stuart Hazell, jailed for life for murdering 12- year-old Tia Sharp, said they had found "extensive" material featuring young girls.

There is something else, too, which has been well documented by the NSPCC and which I found astonishing when I first read it. Many cases of child sex abuse are committed by under-18s. Yes, under 18 years old. In March, the NSPCC published the results of public information requests to all police forces. Some 34 of them responded. Between them, the 34 police forces reported that a total of 5,028 offences had been recorded in the three years between 2009/ 10 and 2011/12 where the perpetrator was under 18, with some as young as five or six.

The alleged crimes included rape and other serious sexual assaults. Nearly all - 98 per cent - of the 4,562 offenders were boys. And where the relationship was recorded, at least three out of five of the victims knew the abuser. More than one-third of the offences appear to have been committed by a family friend or acquaintance, and one in five by family members.

The NSPCC says that, in some cases, older children are attacking younger ones and, in other cases, it's sexual violence within a teenage relationship. The charity adds that "we know that technology and easy access to sexual material is warping young people's views of what is 'normal' or acceptable behaviour We are treating an increasing number of children who have carried out online grooming, harassment in chat rooms and 'sexting' Children who are sexually abusive have often been victims of abuse, harm and trauma themselves. Exposure to this can make them think abusing someone or being sexually violent is OK".

Society thus has a big problem with sexual violence and with the pornification of children. There can be no one solution. Every part of society has to do what it can - as the NSPCC does and as internet firms are being asked to do. Yesterday, companies such as Google, Microsoft and Twitter agreed to give the Internet Watch Foundation more powers and resources to search out abusive images. The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, said the public expected that everything possible be done to remove "absolutely abhorrent" material - including images of child abuse - from the web. "What has been agreed today," she said, "is a fundamental change in the way the industry will approach child abuse images and removing them from public view. …