Don't just blame internet porn for child sex offenders, says NSPCC

Charity says 'everyone has got to play their part' as it emerges children as young as four have been recorded as rape suspects

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The Independent Online

Disturbing new statistics suggesting children as young as four have been reported to police for rape and other sex offences represent a growing and complex problem faced by parents in Britain, the NSPCC has said.

Data released through the Freedom of Information act from police forces across England and Wales showed that almost 800 children below the age of 10 had been investigated for sex crimes.

Metropolitan Police figures reportedly showed that a four-year-old child was recorded as suspected of committing rape between January and September 2014, while a five-year-old boy was reportedly found to have raped another boy in Lincolnshire.

The NSPCC’s head of child safety online, Claire Lilley, said the numbers acquired by the Sunday Mirror came following a marked increase in referrals to the charity’s services for harmful sexual behaviour.

But while the newspaper quoted experts as putting the problem down to the increased availability of “sexual material online”, Ms Lilley told The Independent the issue was “far too complex to blame one thing”.

“The availability of pornography may have been a factor for some children,” she said. “But those children will have had other vulnerabilities, and it can’t just be put down to seeing things online.

“Many of those children will have experienced direct physical or sexual abuse themselves, or witnessed the violent abuse of a mother or father.

“It’s also not just an issue with porn but with violent video games as well,” Ms Lilley said. “We’ve heard examples of children playing 18-plus video games and then schools contacting parents to say they are acting out rape scenes from games in the playground.”

The charity has welcomed the decision of some internet service providers to introduce “default-off” filters on adult content online, forcing users who want to view the material to opt out.

But Ms Lilley pointed out that “some people will choose not to have that”. She said: “It’s about helping all families to understand that what children are seeing even from a very early age may be affecting their later behaviour.”

The Sunday Mirror said the number of children committing sex crimes had doubled from 128 in 2012 to 254 last year, and that the figures could be higher as several forces did not respond to its request for information.

Ms Lilley said the charity wanted to see the Government introduce a legal requirement for all children to receive age-appropriate sex education from as young as five, making PSHE “a statutory part of the curriculum”.

“Everyone has got to play their part,” she said. “It’s about schools contacting parents and parents taking responsibility.

“But the Government also has a role to play offering earlier help to families who do identify problems. There is a lack of services for children with mental health problems.

“Because that is what this is. The development, the wiring of their brains has gone wrong and their behaviour has changed as a result of that.”