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A senior police officer has sounded a warning over the “horrifying” number of men who view child sex abuse images in the UK, calling for a national debate on how online paedophiles should be punished.
Dave Thompson, the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, named child sexual exploitation alongside terrorism as one of the biggest challenges for forces while appearing before the Home Affairs Committee.
Mr Thompson believes the online activity has become a form of “volume crime”, like muggings, burglary and car crime, which are most commonly seen across the UK.
"Everything as a police officer and a parent says that we need to do something urgently to deter people in this area,” he added.
“I am staggered by what I see in terms of the operations the force carries out on the peer-to-peer sharing of images and more sensitive covert policing techniques we carry out,” he told MPs.
“The amount of men in this country who appear to show an active interest in this area is horrifying and the scale of it takes my breath away.
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The charity said 68,000 URLs hosting the material had been identified and removed in a year, while the number of obscene publications offences recorded by the police had doubled to almost 9,000 over five years amid efforts by the National Crime Agency.
Last year, the head of the National Crime Agency suggested that offenders who are “just viewing the images” could be put through charity programmes so police can “increase focus on those who are involved in the actual abuse”.
Gareth Morgan, the Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police, stressed that the action taken should not be based on whether or not police forces have sufficient resources.
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“We don't know just how big the problem is or how many children are affected,” the NSPCC warned at the time.