Why don’t all paedophiles who view indecent images of children go to prison in the UK?

More than 2,000 people were not prosecuted for possessing indecent images of children across the last decade. 

Not a day goes by without one news outlet or another reporting about sex offenders’ being found guilty for possessing indecent images of children.

The internet has provided an easy-to-use platform for these abusers to share indecent photographs and videos.

High-profile police investigations such as Operation Yewtree, which saw Jimmy Saville exposed as a serial sex offender, or the conviction of Rolf Harris for a string of sex offences, has thrown the issue of child abuse into the public forum.

Those found guilty of the most heinous acts against children, including rape and assault by penetration, go into their sentencing hearings knowing they could spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

But this is not the case for all who violate the weakest in society, particularly those who view indecent images of children for sexual gratification.

🅾️Simon Collins pleaded guilty to 12 sex offences spanning over five years – his two year sentence was suspended for two years

Possessing an indecent photograph of a child can be tried either in a magistrates’ court or a crown court depending on the severity of the case against the accused.

According to sentencing guidelines, the maximum punishment for the offence is five years’ custody and the minimum being a medium level community order of 26 weeks.

The fate of a guilty party depends entirely of the circumstances of each case, with courts looking at both aggravating and mitigating factors.

Images which depict penetrative sexual activity or activity with an animal or sadism, are some of the factors at the highest end of the seriousness scale, as does manufacturing images of the same nature.

Distributing child abuse images is another act which weighs against sex offenders.

Possessing images involving non-penetrative sexual activity, creating such images or sharing them lands offenders in the middle category, with images not falling into that category placing offenders in the lowest bracket.

Having shown remorse or being of previous good character are cards that can be played to downscale a defendant’s crime as can having a lack of maturity where if affects the responsibility of the offender.

Courts must also take into account any time spent on bail, early guilty pleas and co-operation with investigating authorities when sentencing such individuals.

🅾️Ryan Clements pleaded guilty to three counts of making indecent photographs of children – he received a two year custodial sentenced suspended for two years

Bearing in mind the plethora of issues that have to be considered by judges before they hand down sentence, the trend seems to be that those who only view indecent images of children, particularly those with no previous convictions, tend to not be immediately jailed.

Whereas sex offenders who actively distribute abuse images, particularly on a large scale, tread a more dangerous line when it comes to being imprisoned.

Surely anyone who deliberately participates in the abuse of children, even by viewing indecent images of those evil acts, should spend some time in prison?

Last year Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas, President of the Police Superintendents’ Association in England and Wales, told The Times there simply wasn’t enough room in Britain’s prisons to cope with the number of convicted paedophiles.

He also said there needed to be ‘alternative thinking’ towards those who view child abuse images at the lower end of the scale.

He is not the only high-profile police officer to hold that view, with one officer claiming police forces are at ‘saturation point’.

In February, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Child Protection, said: “There has never been such a robust approach to tackling the viewing of indecent images.

“Working with the National Crime Agency, police are arresting over 400 offenders and safeguarding over 500 children a month in relation to the viewing of child abuse imagery.

“But research suggests we are barely scratching the surface because there may be as many as 500,000 men in the UK who have or are viewing indecent images of children.

🅾️John Holman pleading guilty to possession of indecent images of children – he was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for two years

“The police service is dealing with an unprecedented volume of reports of child sexual abuse – non-recent abuse, ongoing abuse, online abuse and peer-to-peer abuse.

“The numbers are continuing to rise. We have reached saturation point” 

“The police service has responded to the threat but it has now reached that point whereby we have to try and turn the tide.”

CC Bailey also suggested rehabilitation and treatment rather than prosecution for those who view low-level indecent images

He believes this would allow officers, the Crown Prosecution Service and courts to deal with the scale and volume of abuse and allow focus to target those individuals who pose the greatest threat to children.

In March of this year, analysis of criminal justice data by the Press Association found that more than 2,000 people were not prosecuted for possessing indecent images of children across the last decade.

The same data showed hundreds of people who were successfully prosecuted given non-custodial sentences.

As the number of those viewing indecent images of children rises and the criminal justice system is at a point where it’s drowning in cases, it’s no wonder not all sex offenders are facing jail time.

Colin Peak, NSPCC Head of Service for the East of England, said: “Prison sentences serve a vital purpose in reflecting society’s attitude to the recording and distributing indecent images, while also protecting the public, acting as a deterrent, and helping victims of abuse see offenders deservedly brought to justice.

“But we cannot imprison our way out of the current situation – if we are to stem this tide and protect more children we must also make prevention and rehabilitation a priority.

“With the right support we can prevent offenders from abusing and help those who do harm children change their behaviour.

“The NSPCC is also calling on government, law enforcement and internet providers to commit resources and expertise to prevent this sickening material being published online in the first place.” 



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