Paedophiles could be spared jail and given counseling instead due to the massive volume of online child abuse images and scant resources, according to Britain’s National Crime Agency
NCA chief Lynne Owens said the scale of the challenge facing undercover cops is so great, that it requires a radical re-think.
She said undercover investigators could approach offenders looking at low-level child abuse images online and ask them to seek help from charities.
The program is bound to be controversial, however, as it would rely on appealing to the conscience of pedophiles.
The NCA, Britain’s version of the FBI, said the program would not apply to offenders looking at higher-level images, who would still be prosecuted if their identities can be determined.
Police in the UK spend about £1 billion (US$1.44 billion) each year investigating child abuse crimes, including the sharing of offensive images.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has reported an exponential rise in the number of webpages featuring child sex abuse images.
IWF took down 68,092 web addresses last year, a rise of 118 percent on 2014 figures.
Owens believes asking low-level offenders to seek counseling would stop them from going on to commit more serious crimes.
“[If] it looks like they’re not individually engaged in abusing children, they are just viewing the images, but we want them to stop, you can see it could be possible, with a whole load of ethical checks and balances, to try and make contact with them overtly and get them to engage with charities to improve their offending behavior.”
Owens says she wants to crack down on people abusing children, but warns a vast amount of resources are being expended on people sharing offensives images.
“I think we need to increase our focus on those who are involved in the actual abuse,” she said.
“One of the things we are now looking at is how confident could we be that somebody who is viewing images online is not abusing children themselves.”
The NCA plans to work alongside academics and charities that assess suspects, the material they download and the level of contact they have with children at home and in the workplace.
Former head of Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre Jim Gamble branded the idea of asking offenders to seek help “dangerously ambiguous.”
He accused the NCA of looking for simple solutions at a time of shrinking resources.