Scotland politics

Call to prioritise tackling online child abuse

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Image caption Police Scotland said its commitment to tackling online abuse would continue

Tackling online child abuse must be a top priority, a leading charity has said, after an investigation identified more than 500 potential victims.

Police Scotland seized 30 million indecent images and charged 77 people as part of Operation Lattise.

Children's charity NSPCC Scotland said the probe "underlined in really stark terms" the scale of the issue.

They said parents and teachers also had a key role in keeping children as safe online as they are offline.

Operation Lattise involved 134 separate investigations across Scotland between 6 June and 15 July, with the homes of 83 suspects raided.

Officers identified 523 potential victims of abuse, some as young as three, with 122 of them referred to child protection services.

One suspect had communicated with 110 children, while the seizure of one computer alone led to the recovery of 10 million indecent images.

Image caption Joanna Barrett of NSPCC told the BBC that the true scale of online abuse was yet to be revealed

NSPCC Scotland policy and public affairs manager Joanna Barrett said the charity was "increasingly concerned" about the harm that can be done to children over the internet.

She said: "The figures released yesterday underlined in really stark terms the scale of this type of offending and it just goes to show what a priority this needs to be.

"We would support further efforts by law enforcement to target people who would seek to harm children online, but we also need to look at what we can do to prevent such situations arising.

"How can we educate children to give them the skills and the resilience to deal with online situations to recognised the signs of potential abuse, but what more can we do with the industry?

"What more can the industry do to play their part in keeping children safe online?"

"We need to prioritise this as an issue, because yesterday's statistics show us that there is potential risk to children online, and we need to protect children and bring perpetrators to justice."

'Horrific threat'

Ms Barrett said parents may find it difficult to discuss the internet with their children, but underlined the importance of doing so and setting safe parameters.

She said: "We talk about online safety, but I don't think we have a common understanding in what we mean. We haven't really uncovered the scale of it - yesterday was really only beginning to show us the scale of this type of offending.

"We really need to look at prevention, and that begins with conversations between parents and children about how to stay safe online.

"We've published guidance because parents can often feel overawed, their children can know more about the internet than they do. They need to talk about safe parameters, make sure privacy and filters are there, and start to have that conversation about keeping as safe in the online world as you would in the offline world."

Operation Lattise was Police Scotland's first nationwide effort to tackle online child sex abuse, but Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said the force's "commitment to tackling this horrific threat will continue".

He added: "Police Scotland is committed to Keeping Children Safe and the protection of children was absolutely at the heart of Operation Lattise.

"All children have a right to protection against abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence. We will continue to work with our partners to protect and promote the wellbeing of all children."

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