ONE of Scotland’s most senior detectives yesterday admitted the internet is creating new paedophiles.
And he revealed that, on average, Scots police now arrest an online predator EVERY day.
Detective Chief Inspector Willie Cravens, of Police Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division, said the scale of the problem was chilling.
He said: “In Scotland, we are now active daily in terms of arrests.
“The National Online Child Abuse Prevention team are kicking in doors and locking people up who are sharing indecent images of children.”
The internet has shattered the stereotype of perverts in grubby long coats standing outside primary schools.
Now the predators create a cloak of anonymity and target their victims from their homes.
Mr Cravens insisted the net breeds sexual predators by giving them easy access to sickening images.
He said: “I am convinced the internet has created paedophiles. I don’t mean contact abusers. I mean people who collect images because they would never have got their hands on them before.”
Up to 70 per cent of cybercrime in Scotland relates to sexual grooming.
Paedophiles range from those who collect graphic images of children to the contact abusers who drive the global trade in misery.
Webcams enable predators, often posing as teenagers, to dupe children into performing sex acts on camera.
They trawl chat sites, such as Ask.fm, in a bid to snare vulnerable victims.
The pursuit is a public one but the real damage is done when young people agree to communicate in a private chatroom.
There, the predators use hidden software to record the intimate online encounter without the victim’s knowledge or consent, then use it to put pressure on them.
Youngsters are increasingly being subjected to blackmail and extortion, according to Detective Superintendent Steven Wilson.
Mr Wilson, Police Scotland’s head of cybercrime, said: “Children must be aware that they don’t know exactly who they are speaking to and should not enter into a conversation or action that they would not do in real life.
“We have seem a significant increase in blackmail and extortion online. It is either for money or sexual gain.
“It is people purporting to children that they are another child and then inducing them to do something highly sexualised in front of the camera.
“The kids think they are in their room, they are safe and nobody is going to see this but the next thing it is getting broadcast across the internet.”
However, Mr Wilson stressed these are empty threats because circulating such material puts the groomer firmly on the police radar.
And he has a message for victims who suffer in silence. He said: “Forget the embarrassment factor. Speak to your parents or friends and contact the police.”
The scale of the problem should concern every parent and the senior officer said perverts are adept at trying to keep ahead of the law.
He added: “These predators could be on your doorstep or they could be 10,000 miles away.
“The difficulty is that we are using 19th century legal principles for 21st century criminality.
“There is substantial work at governmental level to improve how we do that.”
But he believes parents must get control of their kids’ use of the net.
He urged them to be aware of which chatrooms their children are in, who they are speaking to and the nature of those conversations.
One of the cybercrime team’s covert investigators put up a profile of an eight-year-old girl and within two days, 350 people had contacted him. Half were adults with a sexual interest.
He said: “We see people who are looking for immediate sexual gratification and there is no messing about.
“In the ones who are more organised and careful, you see a slow burn.
“They try to get the child’s confidence first of all. They are the ones who look to organise a meeting and actually take it to the next stage.
“These people are highly organised, have got money and are prepared to travel for abuse.”
Having been at the forefront of targeting paedophiles since 1999, Mr Cravens has seen many cases where a paedophile has taken things further in the real world.
He said: “In one case the predator arranged to meet a kid at lunchtime – in their mum and dad’s house. They are real dangerous people and they are spread right across the country.”
The rapid technological change of recent years poses an even greater threat to children, he believes.
Most teenagers are now inseparable from their smartphones.
Mr Cravens said: “Mobile phones are, in essence, computers now. Parents probably think about what their kids are doing on the laptop.
“But mobile phones are probably the most dangerous thing that they have. They have all the access to social media – and webcams.
“It is really important they monitor what their kids are doing online.”
This year alone, police in the west of Scotland have dealt with more than 350 cases – a 15 per cent hike on
The senior officer said the impact of the crime cannot be quantified.
He said: “If we arrest someone today who has one image on their computer, there is a kid abused as a result of that.
“There is potential for that person who has one image to become a contact abuser themselves.
“It is about getting them into court and getting them on to the sex offenders’ register.
“Part of that process is trying to rehabilitate them back to normality.”
One of the most high-profile crackdowns was Operation Ore, which was launched in 2002 after US authorities handed UK police details of 7272 child abuse site subscribers.
In the first year, 1300 people, including police, doctors, teachers and celebrities, were arrested.
There has been a major investment in fighting cybercrime since then.
Police are now far better equipped to trace anyone viewing child pornography or grooming children online.
Mr Cravens warned paedophiles that there is no way to erase evidence of their crimes.
He added: “People will think they have deleted material but we have developed tools and techniques with software and hardware developers.
“In most cases if somebody thinks they have deleted something, they haven’t.
“We will find traces of material that we will be able to build a case on.
“If they go online and collect this material then it will expose them to us.”
WHAT EVERY PARENT SHOULD DO
* Talk to your child about what they’re up to online.
* Watch ThinkUKnow internet safety and safe surfing films and cartoons with your child.
* Keep up to date with your child’s abilities online.
* Set boundaries in the online world just as you would in the real world.
* Keep all equipment that connects to the internet in a family space.
* Make sure you’re aware of which devices that your child uses to connect to the internet.
* Use parental controls on devices that link to the internet.
* Emphasise that not everyone online is who they say they are.
* Know what to do if something goes wrong and how to report any problem.