The number of child sexual abuse cases referred to police forces by the National Crime Agency (NCA) doubled between 2018 and 2020, with one police force seeing a 93 per cent rise.
Thames Valley Police (TVP) said the NCA had passed details of 321 cases to the force between March 2018 and February 2019, compared to 621 between March 2020 and February 2021.
On a national level, NCA-referred cases have gone up from 8,110 in 2018, to 11,451 in 2019 to 16,651 in 2020.
Impact of the pandemic
Investigators say predators have taken advantage of more children being online amid restrictions linked to the pandemic.
Offenders include people with families of their own, who are often oblivious to what they have been doing, the force said.
Officers from TVP’s Paedophile Online Investigation Team (Polit) have carried out a series of raids on suspects as well as visits to children groomed into uploading indecent images of themselves.
This month the team has carried out action linked to 43 NCA referrals with 31 arrests and 32 children safeguarded.
‘A well-documented rise’
Detective Inspector Jon Axford from the Polit team, said: “During the first lockdown last year, there was a well-documented rise in this sort of offending.
“Sadly, we know that there are a number of criminals out there who have tried to take the opportunity afforded to them by the fact that more people are online to sexually exploit children.
“These offenders come from a variety of different backgrounds and situations. Many of them have families of their own, who have no idea whatsoever as to their offending.
“These warrants should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks that this sort of offending is harmless and without consequence. It isn’t.
“We know exactly who you are, who you are talking to, and we will come to your house and arrest you, in front of your family and loved ones if necessary.”
The NCA receives referrals of online child abuse cases internationally which it then passes on to the relevant police forces in the UK for investigation.
Mr Axford added: “These warrants are not a one off. We are constantly monitoring the intelligence we receive and we have an extremely good understanding of who is committing this type of offence.
“Online child sexual abuse causes misery to its victims. The long-term effects of it are horrendous, and can damage people for life. The fact that the abuse is taking place online does not make it any less impactful.
“The message is clear – if you are online abusing or grooming children, you will be caught, you will go on the Sex Offenders’ Register, and you may go to prison.
“You could lose your job, your friends and your family and have to live with the stigma of your offending for the rest of your life.”