ALMOST 2000 cases of child online sex abuse have been investigated by Police Scotland over the past year, as they warn of a "horrific trade in trauma and misery".

The number of crimes is up by 6.6% on the previous year, and coincides with a huge surge in the number of people contacting child protection charity Stop It Now! Scotland.

The organisation runs a confidential hotline for people “concerned about their own online or offline behaviour towards children.”

In 2022-23, 10,303 people sought help from the charity, three times the number in 2020-21.

Stuart Allardyce, director of Stop It Now, Scotland!, said: “This inarguably shows that anyone on a pathway to offending, or at the early stages of offending will seek out anonymous and confidential support.

"It also shows that there are a lot of individuals who are aware that what they are doing is wrong, they feel shameful about it and are motivated to change.”

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A 511% increase in referrals to Police Scotland about online offenders targeting children has been seen between 2015 and 2021.

The figures from the national force show that between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023, there were 1,928 online child sexual abuse crimes, up from 1,911 in the previous year.

The number of cases hovered around the 140 mark for most months but then jumped to just over 200 for March.

The biggest single increase in crime type was in the taking, distribution and possession of indecent photos of children which went from 668 crimes in 2021/22 to 765, an increase of 14.5% and up by 18% on the five-year mean. 

The number of crimes recorded as grooming of children for the purposes of sexual offences dropped from 96 to 79.

In the same period, dedicated online child sexual abuse teams within Police Scotland, carried out 709 investigations, recovering both indecent images of children and child sexual abuse material. A total of 486 arrests were made and 776 children were protected.

Detective Chief Superintendent Sam Faulds, head of Public Protection and Police Scotland’s National Child Abuse Investigation Unit (NCAIU), said: “Behind every image of abuse shared online is a child. These images are viewed and shared thousands if not potentially millions of times around the world. This is a horrific trade in trauma and misery.

“Grooming, indecent communications and sharing indecent images are all serious criminal offences, with serious consequences for the perpetrators.

“We continue to build our cyber capability and expertise to identify child victims.

"Offenders need to understand they will be identified, arrested and will face the consequences of their actions, not just a conviction but the potential loss of family, reputation and livelihood."

Anyone with concerns about child sexual abuse can call the Stop It Now! Scotland team on 0131 556 3535 (open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday) or call the UK helpline 0808 1000 900 (open 9am–9pm Monday-Thursday, 9am–5 pm Friday).