A report into how police forces in England and Wales tackle online child sex abuse has found “unacceptable delays and missed opportunities” in responding to allegations.
It says too often slow responses left vulnerable children in danger, allowing offenders to escape justice.
In some cases, it took police up to a year and a half to make an arrest.
The report by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found that officers have “limited tools” to understand risk.
Many officers “don’t always follow lines of inquiry to find out who the suspect is and whether they are approaching children” it added.
Justin Humphreys is a safeguarding expert with Thirtyone:eight, which is the UK’s only independent Christian safeguarding charity. Speaking with Premier Christian News, he said: “The Bible teaches us that every child and young person is precious and worthy of protection from abuse and harm.
“The value Jesus places on children and the warning he gives to those who harm them couldn’t be stronger. As Christians, the findings of the report should shock and appal us,” he added.
It was found that in most forces, cases reported directly to police were dealt with by non-specialists with inadequate training. These people are unaware of guidance they should follow and what specialist services they should refer children to.
The lack of a consistent and effective national approach to tackling online abuse is a concern to Thirtyone:eight.
“Sadly this is also something we see in other sectors of society including the Church,” commented Justin Humphreys.
“The problem isn’t just out there on the internet and it isn’t going away,” he continued. “We would join in urging the chief constables, policing bodies and government to implement the recommendations speedily. This needs a coordinated and sustained response.”
The report also found that forces wait too long before sharing information with relevant partners such as the local authority.
It said the Online Safety Bill could “significantly reduce” the amount of child sex abuse material online. Inspector Wendy Williams made 17 recommendations in the report, including better coordination across the country.
“The good news is that churches can be part of the solution,” continued Justin Humphreys.
“By taking safeguarding seriously, raising awareness of the risks and teaching our children how they can speak up when things frighten or worry them are all important ways we can contribute to creating safer environments for all.”