Sixty second interview with John Carr, new technology adviser at children’s charity NCH on child abuse images on the internet

A new NCH report published last week calls for a global body to tackle the rising number of child sex abuse images on the internet.

‘Evidence suggests there are more child sex abuse images circulating online than ever before,’ says Carr.

What is your report calling for?
Governments around the world need to give the issue of tackling online child sex abuse images a higher priority. By and large I’m afraid they won’t do that unless they feel  under political pressure to do so back home. We need a new global mechanism of some kind to stimulate that domestic pressure in very many countries.
The main obstacle is money. If the resources were available there are enough good people around the world to put this thing together and move the whole agenda forward.

The name of the report is Out of sight, out of mind. What does the title mean?
Too many ministers, and in this respect here I exempt the UK government completely, go off to conferences all over the world, make brave speeches and extravagant promises, then forget about them when back at base. This goes back to an absence of a means of monitoring and regularly reporting on what happens after the ink has dried and TV cameras  switched off. The parallels with debt relief, human rights abuses and environmental campaigns are very striking.

What evidence do you have that there are more child sex abuse images circulating online than ever before?
All of the hotlines gathering evidence of illegal online material around the world keep saying so, and so do the cops. Last year the US hotline reported a 400% increase in reports in the previous four years, and in the UK it was noted that the number of commercial child sex abuse sites being detected had tripled in two years.

Isn’t the government already doing a lot to tackle online abuse, including establishing the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre?
My report is not really about the domestic situation in the UK. It is about what is going on, or rather not going on, across the world. Within the UK we are hitting up against the limits of what can be done in one country. Of course we would like more resources for CEOP and for people working with sexually abused children and offenders but, really, to get the images off the net and end much of the abuse that lies behind them, we need more action internationally.

Child protection services staffed by frontline social workers are underfunded and overstretched. Shouldn’t more money be spent on that rather than online abuse?
We should not have to choose between one thing and the other. Both are needed. However, on a pragmatic note, the most likely sources of interest and support for what I am proposing are very different from those that might be interested in supporting frontline social workers. For all practical purposes, there therefore really isn’t a trade off.

Is the problem of online abuse being exaggerated?
Please do not hold me responsible for how individual journalists or editors sometimes choose to present the issue.
Undoubtedly the great majority of child sex abuse that takes places probably does so in contexts which have little or nothing to do with the online environment, although increasingly I suspect the two are getting more and more mixed up.
But none of that means that what is happening online is not real and damaging for the children involved and therefore we clearly have a duty to act to mitigate or prevent it. Equally it does not mean we should wait until we have solved all non-internet related child sex abuse before turning to the online version. Things do not work in such a neat, linear way.

Your report uses the term child sex abuse image rather than child pornography. Does the term child pornography trivialise the experience of children abused for images?
It does, or it implies there may be a consensual element, as with the legal, adult pornography industry. However sometimes you have to use the term child pornography because in some circumstances, or in some countries, that is the term the legal system uses. Saying child sex abuse image conveys exactly what the image is about, with no room for ambiguity.

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