Westminster Column - Crime and online abuse

3rd March 2017

Regular readers will be aware that West Mercia Police are cracking down on those who commit online abuse, particularly on paedophilia. Arrests of those abusing young vulnerable people, while reassuring, do highlight an age-old problem, exacerbated in our modern world.

The internet provides young people with amazing opportunities, with 87% of children aged 5-15 going online, according to Ofcom. But it has also introduced a host of new dangers which children and parents have never faced in this way before. It is increasingly clear that some behaviours which are unacceptable offline are being tolerated or even encouraged online – sometimes with devastating consequences. I have particular concerns about the ease with which young people can access inappropriate material, with increasingly obsessive use of social media without thought of the consequences. 

So I am pleased to see a major new drive on internet safety to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online. A report by leading academic Professor Sonia Livingstone has been commissioned to provide up to date evidence of how young people are using the internet, the dangers they face, and the gaps that exist in keeping them safe.

At national level a series of round table meetings are being held with social media companies, technology firms, young people, charities and mental health experts to examine online risks and how to tackle them. This will be the first step towards understanding the full scale of the problem, and explore how everyone can play their part in tackling it.

The anonymity and global nature of the internet provides its own challenges. Unfortunately, there has been a rapid rise in cybercrime, and the potential dangers around grooming are well known to many. The high profile revelations of historic sexual abuse, such as Jimmy Savile, have led to many victims coming forward and justice being served on those who for too long were left unpunished. 

But I am also aware of some cases affecting constituents where allegations have been made that proved to have been false but were very difficult to disprove, given the length of time that had past. These few cases have had a profound effect on the accused and their families, sometimes dragging on for years before being dismissed.

So I am conscious that the right balance needs to be struck. But it is important for us all to play our part in cracking down on those who use the internet to target children and the vulnerable. I am keen to hear from constituents or voluntary groups locally who share my concerns.

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