On the 16th floor of the impressive Empress State Building, looming over Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, the men and women of Scotland Yard’s Sexual Offences Command quietly go about some of the most distressing police work imaginable.
This is home to the ‘paedophile unit’ whose job it is to identify victims, stop abuse material being shared and distributed, categorise extreme imagery ready for court and, hopefully, catch paedophiles before they find a victim. Day in, day out officers here wade through an infinite amount of extremely distressing material. One of the most difficult jobs within the squad lies with the team of nine officers responsible for trawling the web’s “tame” to “extreme” websites that play host and distributor to an unlimited volume of child abuse material.‘Dan’, the team leader, introduces me to the “mild” websites that are often a paedophile’s starting point. “You’re going to get a flavour of the webcam society that we live in which a lot of teenagers experience and think it’s a laugh and a joke,” he says. “We’ve gone in a generation from teenagers experimenting with a kiss and a cuddle behind the bike sheds to this.”
The websites popping up in front of me all contain thousands of indecent images, all easily accessible through a simple Google search, of mainly naked selfies or full frontal shots taken in front of a mirror. The vast majority of girls are smiling or pouting – no one seems upset. What is perhaps even more startling is the number of girls who are filming or photographing themselves in pairs or groups. In one image a girl who appears no older than 12 is being hoisted by three boys the same age – all naked, all laughing.
Dan, who has been in the role for five years, says: “This is happening everywhere, in every [secondary] school around the country. We have to be realistic. You’ll see videos that have been taken in schools.”
The proliferation of supremely confident girls filming or photographing themselves like this has altered the Met’s child abuse ‘victimology’ profiles which, until recently, had assumed girls with webcam access being left alone for hours in their bedroom were the norm. Not anymore. The amount of self-generating child abuse material, from children often oblivious to the exploitation that follows, is overwhelming.
The material ends up being shared globally onto websites with chat forums as voyeurs share fantasies and, ultimately, progress to ‘contact abuse’ having found people with access to vulnerable children.
DI Phillip Royan, who leads the paedophile unit, says: “This is the mildest stuff we deal with. People record the most horrendous stuff – sadism, penetrative sex with children, in families. It’s tough to deal with. It’s a niche field and evokes a lot of emotion in police officers.”
Many of the team are parents and, like any other office, pictures of children are dotted around desks helping no doubt to take the detectives’ minds off their work for brief moments.
Full article here