Paedophiles who download or share child abuse images should receive the same punishment as those who abuse children themselves, according to the solicitor general.
Robert Buckland QC said downloading and sharing such images was just as “insidious” as direct sexual abuse, as he announced plans to extend the unduly lenient sentencing scheme to indecent images offences. Under the scheme, victims and members of the public can challenge tariffs handed down to offenders.
“We have got to make sure that it’s fully understood that use of the internet to download and share images of child abuse is as insidious a crime as direct sexual assault,” Buckland, the MP for South Swindon, told the Daily Telegraph.
“I do hear that the weight of cases is a challenge but that shouldn’t detract from the seriousness of this type of offending and the fact that too many children and young people are being exploited, in many cases for the gratification of people living hundreds of miles away.”
One in four convictions for child abuse images result in custodial sentences, with the rest given community sentences, fines or suspended sentences, according to official figures.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said: “As set out in the manifesto commitment, we are working with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to look at extending the scheme further. No decisions on future extensions have been made.”
In response to Buckland’s remarks, an MoJ spokesperson said: “Online child sexual exploitation is sickening, and offenders who take or distribute indecent images already face 10 years in prison – with record numbers given custodial sentences in 2017.
“Last year, we also made it illegal to communicate sexually with a child, and we will shortly set out further measures to protect child victims in our victim’s strategy. However, sentencing is a matter for independent judges who make decisions based on the full facts of each case.”
The government has introduced various pieces of legislation relating to child sexual abuse and exploitation during its time in office. A new offence of revenge pornography has been created, it is now an offence to possess a “paedophile manual”, and a specific offence of communicating sexually with a child has also been introduced.