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Should tech bosses be jailed for failing to protect children from online abuse?

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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Should tech bosses be jailed for failing to protect children from online abuse?

Over the last six months I have talked about keeping children safe online, with the focus on protecting children. However, the NSPCC are now arguing for the technology companies to be accountable for allowing people to abuse children online, proposing prison sentences. This may be appropriate but we should not lose sight of the most important group in this debate, the children, who not only deserve to be protected by all adults, but in the event that they come to harm, to be properly supported and compensated.  

What is the NSPCC proposing?

The NSPCC argues that those in control at the large technology companies must be subject to the criminal law, if they fail to protect children. Peter Wanless, Chief Executive Officer of the NSPCC, is calling for a new criminal offence, akin to corporate manslaughter. The consequence of such a change in the law would be that social media firms, technology companies, could be prosecuted for a gross breach of their duty of care. A breach will arise if the technology companies have not introduced and managed adequate procedures to protect children from online harm, whether it be abuse, bullying or self-harm. Peter Wanless said, “you have got to make the consequences of breaching the duty of care proportionate to the scale of damage that can be done”.

What about the children?

I support the principle of the technology and social media companies being held to account for their failures to protect children from online abuse. Statistics published during the pandemic illustrate that the risk to children is on the rise.

In May 2020 figures showed that online grooming, over a three-year period had accounted for over 10,000 offences of sexual communication with a child with, significantly, the number of offences increasing over a six-month period in 2019. In July 2020 the Internet Watch Foundation published its own figures, showing that the number of reports of child abuse images online had increased by nearly 50% during lockdown.

An increase in online activity of sexual abuse can cause long-term harm to children. Not only must the State take steps to punish those who do not play their part in deterring abusers, but it must also provide support to organisations that support victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Therefore, it is encouraging to report that at the end of September 2020 the government announced that it was doubling the financial support to national organisations, to £2.4 million.

How can we help children who are harmed by online abuse?

Whatever we do to protect children, there will be those paedophiles who manage to overcome the barriers we put in place. Those children who are harmed will be able to call upon government aid for support, such as therapy and counselling. However, even with an increase in funds from government, this is unlikely to be sufficient to meet all the needs of a child, as it is quite often the case that support will be time or finance limited. Therefore, children, or rather their parents, may want to explore the possibility of a child abuse compensation claim to obtain access to additional funds to allow their child to receive further support and counselling.

Should tech bosses be jailed for failing to protect children from online abuse?

We need to deploy every possible deterrent, to protect children and thus whilst it would be preferable to rely upon the goodwill of tech companies to fully play their part, because there will always remain a risk that some companies may not do as much as they could, the notion of creating a new criminal offence to punish the owners of technology companies for failing in their legal duties, is a welcome step.

What should I do if my child has been exposed to online abuse?

The NSPCC is an excellent resource for advice on online abuse and for guidance, but if you wish to pursue a claim for harm caused to your child through online abuse, speak to a specialist solicitor who will be able to advise you on what action may be taken to obtain redress for your child, to provide ongoing support.

Contact our abuse claims experts today

At IBB, our personal injury team has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for online sexual abuse. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.

 

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