The Net is being blamed for a massive rise in child pornography, according to a new report out today.
The study - Child pornography, child abuse and the Internet - concludes that the ease of sharing and viewing images online has led to a huge increase in the volume of child porn available.
The report argues that making it easier to view such material has led to an increase in demand for child porn. In turn, this increased demand has led to an increase in the distribution of child porn online and, as a result, an increase in the sexual abuse of children.
The apparent ease of obtaining illegal images online is such a problem now that organised crime is now cashing in on supplying child porn. The report from children's charity, NCH, is concerned that the distribution of child porn through the Net means that yet more children will be abused to create new images for them to sell.
The report supports its argument by drawing on Home Office stats, which reveal that 35 people in England and Wales were either cautioned or charged with child pornography offences in 1988. By 2001, that number had skyrocketed 1,500 per cent to 549 and experts warn there is every chance this could increase still further.
Said report author John Carr: "These numbers speak for themselves. The scale of the problem has changed beyond recognition in just over a decade.
"This increased demand has made child pornography into big business and the consequences for children in all parts of the world are horrifying. Offences being committed through chat rooms have also been rising steeply.
"We need to tackle these problems urgently. The Internet is about to go mobile, and that could make a lot of things more difficult to prevent or detec."
In a bid to combat the spread of child porn online, Mr Carr called on the Internet industry to do more to combat the availability of images on the Net.
He believes that the Internet industry should produce better technical measures to prevent access to child abuse images, and work more closely with law enforcement agencies to develop more effective technical tools for combating the trade.
However, the UK's Internet trade group, ISPA UK, has defended the industry's commitment to stamping out illegal material online; it insists that it has an "ongoing commitment to assisting agencies involved in the protection of children on the Internet".
"Were it not for the assistance the internet industry offers law enforcement agencies, the police would not have been as successful as they have been in arresting individuals who have been distributing or downloading images of child abuse," a spokesman told The Register.
He said the increase in the number of convictions and cautions that have been made since 1988 reflected the effective working relationship between the Internet industry and law enforcement agencies. ®