CHILD abuse image offences recorded by police in Cumbria have more than doubled in just five years, the NSPCC has said.

The force recorded 307 child abuse image offences in 2021/22, compared to 148 in 2016/2017.

A total of 1,402 offences have been recorded by Cumbria Constabulary over the last five years.

Nationally, child abuse image offences recorded by police forces across the UK have jumped by two-thirds (66 per cent) in five years, with more than 30,000 crimes involving the sharing and possession of indecent images of children recorded last year (2021/22), according to freedom of information data obtained by the NSPCC.

A spokesman for Cumbria Constabulary said: "Cumbria has seen an increase in Indecent Images of Children (IIOC) offences in line with the national average. The figures provided include youth-produced sexual imagery -“sexting”.

"A survey from conducted in 2020 indicates that 17 per cent of young people ages 15-18 have shared a nude or sexual image of themselves. This is roughly one in six young people.

"Adult-perpetrated online sexual abuse is also increasing, with a marked increase in this type of offending during the period of lockdown. However additional factors such as a greater awareness of abuse and an increased trust in confidence in the police is leading to more offences being reported."

The force said in response to the increased concern around this type of offending, the Constabulary’s Cyber and Digital Crime Unit was set up in 2019 with funding from the Police and Crime Commissioner, with the aim of protecting the public and catching criminals operating online.

"The team work incredibly hard day-in-day-out to target those committing online child sexual abuse and, most importantly, to safeguard vulnerable victims who are identified as at risk," the spokesman added. 

"We will continue to use the many tools available to us to proactively target those who offend online, safeguard victims and bring offenders to justice."

Detective Inspector Fiona Gray said: "I would urge anyone who has concerns, whether for a child vulnerable to sexual abuse or exploitation, or an individual accessing indecent images of children, to share your concerns with the constabulary as soon as possible via any of the various reporting mechanisms available."

The NSPCC warns that "'unregulated social media is fuelling the unprecedented scale of online child sexual abuse and behind every offence could be multiple child victims who are continually revictimized as images are shared".

The child protection charity is calling on Government to give children, including victims of sexual abuse, voice and expert representation in future regulation by creating a statutory child safety advocate through the Online Safety Bill.

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Sir Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, said: "These new figures are incredibly alarming but reflect just the tip of the iceberg of what children are experiencing online.

"By creating a child safety advocate that stands up for children and families the Government can ensure the Online Safety Bill systemically prevents abuse.

"It would be inexcusable if in five years’ time we are still playing catch-up to pervasive abuse that has been allowed to proliferate on social media."

A government spokesperson said: "Protecting children is at the heart of the Online Safety Bill and we have included tough, world-leading measures to achieve that aim while ensuring the interests of children and families are represented through the Children's Commissioner. 

"Virtual reality platforms are in scope and will be forced to keep children safe from exploitation and remove vile child abuse content. If companies fail to tackle this material effectively, they will face huge fines and could face criminal sanctions against their senior managers."