The National Crime Agency warned that at least 300,000 people in the UK pose a threat to children and that online child sex offending could spike during the coronavirus crisis.
The latest figure comes from intelligence pre-dating the coronavirus outbreak.
Based on the NCA’s developing understanding, from a variety of sources, it believes this high number of individuals pose a threat either through physical ‘contact’ abuse or online.
NCA investigators were able to find child sexual abuse content on the open web in just three clicks. They have also arrested more than 500 child sex offenders and safeguarded around 700 children each month.
Rob Jones, NCA director of threat leadership, said: “Child sexual abuse remains a priority threat for the agency at this difficult time.
“Though we are working around the virus like everyone else, we are continuing to pursue high-risk online offenders to ensure they are arrested and children are safeguarded.
“The internet has undeniable benefits to society. But it’s also enabled a section of society to commit increasingly horrific crimes against children through grooming, live-streaming and distribution of indecent images.
“Preventing offences occurring is always crucial and now more so than ever when there is masses of online traffic and a possible elevated threat to children.
“We are redoubling our efforts to promote our online safety messages to children, parents, carers and teachers and are working with partners to keep children safe.”
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, NPCC lead for child protection, added: “It is sickening to think that some criminals are looking to exploit the coronavirus crisis to cause harm online.
“Despite the issues that the pandemic will cause for law enforcement, child protection is still a priority and we remain totally committed to keeping our young people safe. Our joint work with the NCA means we have better intelligence and are arresting more sex offenders than ever before.”
Since schools closed because of coronavirus the number of child safety concerns reported through the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) website has stayed largely the same.
There has been decreased reporting from professionals such as teachers and social workers and the level of reports from children has remained stable. There has also been no delay in how the agency triages and responds to these reports.
The NCA has now launched a new #OnlineSafetyAtHome campaign through its education team at the CEOP command. Informative educational products aimed at children of all ages, parents, carers and teachers will be issued through the agency’s Thinkuknow website and social media channels.
It has also released COVID-19 specific content through Parent Info, which is a news feed and website the NCA runs with Digital family experts Parent Zone.