LONDON (Reuters) - More than 700 suspected child sex offenders have been arrested over the past three years after investigations by Britain’s online child protection force.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) said its action had safeguarded 345 children from sexual abuse since its launch as a police agency reporting to the Home Office in April 2006.
In the past 12 months, 139 children had been made safe -- 20 identified through the examination of child abuse images -- and 334 arrests made.
More than 5,600 reports of suspected abuse were sent to CEOP over the past year, nearly half coming from concerned children and adults.
It said that on average four of the reports each day needed immediate action because of a child being at risk.
The main crime reported is of the “grooming” of a young child, where an offender tries to lure their victim by engaging them in conversation.
This is now primarily done over popular social networking sites rather than by instant messaging as was previously the case.
Offenders are increasingly using peer-to-peer networks and newsgroups to share images of sexual abuse, CEOP said, rather than commercial pay-per-view sites.
“Child protection is everybody’s business and we should afford our children the same protection online that we would give them in the park or playground,” said CEOP chief executive Jim Gamble.
“This is not about technology -- this is about people. There is no distinction between the online and offline worlds.”
CEOP said more than 4 million children had now seen its Thinkuknow online safety education programme since its launch three years ago.
Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Steve Addison