Belfast Telegraph

Police handling 200 online child abuse cases in Northern Ireland at any given time

By Sue Doherty

The PSNI are investigating around 200 cases of online child sex abuse at any given time, a senior officer has revealed.

Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Det Chief Constable Drew Harris said there is "a constant flow of people through our courts every week" in relation to online sexual abuse of children online.

"At any one time, in the order of 200 investigations are open into actual suspects from Northern Ireland, not just information, but moving forward to gather evidence," he explained.

"As we put more resources to it, we are detecting more. There’s a constant flow of people through our courts every week in relation to this."

Dealing with this type of crime is a relatively recent challenge for the police he said, and work that is largely "invisible" to the public.

"When I joined the police, such offending was unknown, entirely unheard of and possibly beyond our imagination.

"The internet is being used for very dark and evil purposes and it is very difficult to police. The policing of that is invisible to society."

The PSNI is devoting substantial resources to protecting vulnerable children and working with partner organisations here as well as with the police in England, Scotland, Wales and the Garda Siochana in Ireland.

"Whether it’s growing or not it’s hard to say, it appears to be growing but our detection techniques are improving."

He said that, more and more, police work takes place "on the fringes of society", trying to protect people who are vulnerable, whether victims of domestic abuse or child victims of abuse or sexual exploitation.

This kind of worse, he said, can be especially stressful. "Police officers find themselves very often dealing with people in dire straits, people who are in entirely hopeless situations and who feel powerless about what they can do, and that is very stressful, especially when you know the situation is going to re-occur and re-occur."

He spoke of the vulnerability of the many young people who go missing in Northern Ireland.

Of around 12,000 people reported missing in Northern Ireland each year, he said, 60% are aged 17 and under.

"A lot of that is concentrated on children who go missing from care homes or very difficult family situations.

"There are some episodes of children going missing every week, children from fractured families or in care system.

"They are in a position where they can be easily abused, without the checks and balances of a support system of family and friends that they can turn to."

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