Child sex abuse image cases soar by 300% in Northern Ireland
The number of recorded offences for viewing child pornography in Northern Ireland has skyrocketed in the last four years.
Shocking new figures revealed today by the NSPCC show that the PSNI recorded 231 offences for viewing child abuse images in 2014/15, up 292% from 2010/11.
England, Scotland and Wales all saw their numbers increase by 134, 168 and 184% respectively.
Nationwide, there were a total of 8,745 offences last year.
Neil Anderson, head of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, said: "The sheer numbers of people viewing child sexual abuse images online must be addressed as a social emergency."
The latest research shows that roughly half a million men around the UK may have viewed child pornography online - a far larger number than previously estimated.
Last year, the Internet Watch Foundation identified and helped remove more than 68,000 websites hosting child pornography - an increase of 118% from the previous year.
The fact that the data only shows the images found and offenders caught points to the hidden scale of the crisis.
Mr Anderson said: "We recognise that progress has been made. For example, the work of the National Crime Agency and the police has safeguarded record numbers of victims and arrested hundreds of suspects in the UK.
"Industry is working with partners such as the IWF to identify and remove child sexual abuse images. But these efforts alone will not solve the problem.
"That's why today we are calling for a robust action plan to cut off the supply of child sexual abuse images in circulation, and deter adults from seeking out child abuse online.
"We should be long past the point where there are dark corners of the internet where these terrible crimes against children are hosted for the pleasure of paedophiles."
The NSPCC has recommended that internet firms sign up to a set of minimum standards, with an independent annual audit and a transparency report on the identification of removal of child abuse images.
It has also called on the Northern Ireland E-Safety strategy, designed to help safeguard young people on the internet, to be implemented more effectively - and calls for better training for professionals to safeguard children.
Unionist MLA Doug Beattie labelled the new report "extremely concerning" and called for a "top to bottom" approach to stamp out the worrying rise.
He said: "It would breed concern within communities. There'll be mothers of small children reading this report, and schools need to take precautions as well."
He added that the courts needed to adopt a hardline approach for any individual found guilty of accessing child pornography.
He said: "People can talk about how we need to educate and rehabilitate them but the reality is someone watching child pornography has made a decision, it's not accidental.
"Studies clearly show that when people do it once they will likely do it again. It's a terrible thing, it breeds insidiousness and it needs to be cut out now."
He said that the PSNI were aware of the dangers posed to youngsters on the internet, but more investment was needed in their cyber-crimes unit.