Delays to Online Safety Bill - Get It Sorted!

Delays to Online Safety Bill - Get It Sorted!

Trigger warning - PTSD & Child Abuse themes.

So unless you have been under a rock this last year you will not fail to have noticed what has been going on in Parliament but you may not have realised the knock-on effect this has had on legislation being approved. Originally due to be put before Parliament in June of this year, it was pushed back because of the summer break. Still, because of the revolving door at No 10, it has now been delayed further and worse the Government are refusing to commit to a new timetable.

During this time the NSPCC have stated that since July it is likely that more than 100 grooming and other such crimes are likely being registered by police each day. Let that number sink in, now consider that is more than 13,000 online child sex offences over the period. Forget that the number is shockingly high but that is 13,000 children likely scarred for the rest of their lives, family members who will have to support that child, therapists/councillors & psychiatrists who will have to hear that child's story, investigators/analysts who will have to possibly view materials related to those crimes, the list goes on and the butterfly effect really kicks in.

I consider my local MP to be a decent person. I genuinely believe that their heart is in the right place because I have spoken to her on the subject of online child safety a few times. I know she is currently writing to the Education Secretary on my behalf to see if we can have this subject officially added to the curriculum in all schools. I do doubt the Governments ability to deliver this legislation as expediently as possible though. I implore Michelle Donelan to use her new portfolio as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport of the United Kingdom to forge ahead with getting this legislation pushed through Parliament in the fastest possible timeframe.

Why is this so important? Apart from what I have said above, I feel now is a good time to discuss the very personal reasons why it is crucial that this legislation is enacted immediately. I do so to benefit anybody who might just read this and is in a position to affect such change.

In the famous words of the shrunken head on the night bus in Harry Potter strap in, "it's going to be a bumpy ride".

As many of you know I spent 6 years of my life in a role investigating criminal & inappropriate web browsing sessions committed on the MoD network, these crimes were committed by such a wide and varied type of 'person' and there truly is no stereotypical offender, they were people from all types of background, all ranks and grades, different branches of the armed forces and civilians and some even had families of their own. Over the period I probably viewed in excess of 1 million inappropriate images and a conservative estimate is that a quarter of those was criminal in nature, yes that is a quarter of a million images traversing what is in effect a workplace network. These are the people who were brazen enough to conduct this browsing at work, let's not consider how many do it in private. I think my main point here is that these people could be anyone in the community and a large part of the PTSD I now battle each day is the lost trust in the human race which I now carry, of course, I know that there are good people in this world, but I unfortunately now also know the depraved depths of the evil that hides in plain sight and it is impossible for me to differentiate.

The PTSD I battle with doesn't just affect me though, it has affected my amazing wife in ways I could not have imagined, I have lost friendships because of the person I have evolved into, I worry every day about keeping a job, my ability to keep a roof over our heads, I worry about my mask slipping every minute of every day when I am around people and worst of all I worry about having to leave my home/safe space and having to be amongst the very people I have lost that ability to trust in. Having said all that though, this isn't about me but about the children who are actually abused by sexual predators, predators who see what they do as something natural, and predators who create long-lasting and sometimes lifelong physical and mental wounds to people who have barely begun to live their lives.

They say you never forget your first, in my personal experience this was true. My first criminal case involved a Royal Marine Warrant Officer, I won't mention his name here but it is open source and easily found if you wish to see the news stories. To anybody who met him, knew him or worked with him, they all said he was a great bloke, into all types of charity and volunteering and even escorting royalty (Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall at the time) around HMS Drake in 2013.

Sounds like the salt of the earth right? When nobody was watching though he was in his office browsing the web for child pornography and was a prolific offender spending a lot of his time doing so. I had only very recently joined the unit so I had to deal with the initial shock that anybody would even look at pornography at work never mind this type of pornography. I sat staring at my screen for multiple hours, I stared into the eyes of children who were clearly being forced to pose for photos, some with no understanding of why but others old enough to understand. At times I genuinely believe I could see into their souls and understand what they were feeling. At the end of my analysis an evidence package was put together for the Civilian Police to act upon and act they did. He was arrested and all of his computers and digital devices were seized, further evidence was found and it was discovered that he had also been abusing his step-daughter, something that had previously been raised, but prosecutors had previously failed to take the case to court due to a perceived 'lack of evidence' - despite the girl having gone to police the 'mother' of the girl talked her into not taking it further. Jailing him for four-and-a-half years Judge Graham Cottle said the offences were 'completely abhorrent'.

I don't like talking about him openly and I don't take any pleasure writing about the experience as I will pay for it in my head, but on this occasion, it is worth the pain. Although it triggers me, it is also one of the things that I now use as an anchor and to help ground me during the darkest times, not only did I unmask a sexual predator to the world but also a child was protected from future abuses, it is wins like that which can get you through the day or even just out of bed some days.

When you are trying to reach people who can effect real change, whether that be MPs in Westminster, teachers who have daily contact with children or parents who care about their children it gets very frustrating that in a country with a population of 13 million under 18s, I reach 153 people through my YouTube channel and less than 100 through my blog.

Maybe this says more about me being the wrong person to push the message. Perhaps it's because the subject is considered taboo and not to be talked about. I do know that it is not a subject that sells or is seen as glitzy so it doesn't get pushed to the top of the pile by the algorithms at YouTube, LinkedIn or Google. Fear of talking about it just enables an environment where it is easier for these 'people' to hide almost in plain sight. This Bill needs to be enacted immediately! Getting the tech firms on board is a necessity and this will help to do so, we need more technical solutions for discovering these illegal activities and locating the offenders and ultimately we need punishments that fit the crime and help to protect the children/young people in our society from abuse by these sexual predators.

Try and give me a reason why we need fewer protections in place to protect children. There will be arguments for the invasion of privacy, conspiracy theorists and others who will try to have powers watered down, the only people that benefit from that are the sexual predators/paedophiles themselves.

Anybody who has a problem with more powers to protect children has never stared into the eyes of a child abuse victim and honestly, I hope they never have to!