Yesterday, Keith Bristow, head of the National Crime Agency (NCA) said that about 50,000 people in the UK are accessing images of children being abused. Present resources are not enough to bring all of these people to court. The NCA will have to prioritise the high-risk offenders, as it is simply not realistic to expect all of these 50,000 to be arrested and tried.
This seems reasonable. 50,000 is a lot of cases. They are breaking the law, but the law does not have the resources to bring them all in. Somehow, police have to screen out the worst cases and arrest them. How do they find the worst cases? Maybe by assessing what they are looking at. For instance, rape and strangulation viewing needs arrest. Simple pictures of nudity maybe just need an educational session on the details of the impact that abuse has on the child, and long-term monitoring of internet activity and behaviour.
However, it looks as if an efficient screen will bring in 12,500 cases who need to be dealt with seriously:
Michael Seto, a research psychologist at the University of Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, found in several studies that one in four men arrested for possessing child porn had a history of molesting kids. (Software Tracks Child Porn Traffickers On-Line, USA Today 16th April 2008) Source
Bristow's criterion of going for the high-risk abusers applies also to actual physical (as opposed to virtual) abusers. There has been a pattern in the past of where VIP abusers have been using childrens' homes as a source of boys. The home managers have been arrested, tried and imprisoned, while the VIPs, the MPs and civil servants have escaped. Bristow's principle of going for the high-risk abusers needs to be extended to high-rank abusers too. If there is a public perception that low rank abusers will be punished, but high-rankers can walk free, there will be a public perception also that it is OK to abuse children, so long as you don't get caught.
There is a massive division in the ranks of the police. There are many, a majority probably, of decent coppers who really are opposed to child abuse. There are also some, probably high rankers, probably 1% to 5% of the force, who are paedophiles, who do not want paedophilia to be investigated, who will delay passing on information about paedophiles, and who will actively try to prevent their colleagues from investigating and arresting the group of high ranking paedophiles in Government.
The challenge for Bristow is to overcome the resistance from this enemy withing and nail the big perpetrators. If he does not, or if he fails to go for the big fish, the whole exercise is a waste of police time.