Fears that criminals may be exploiting the lockdown period to groom children online, as well as more time at home resulting in increased numbers accessing illegal material, have resulted in police carrying out a series of operations to bring them to justice.
North Yorkshire Police says it has been raiding homes through search warrants, seizing digital devices and arresting those suspected of illegal sexual activity online, including sexual activity with a child.
Two men aged 20 and 21 were arrested in Norton, near Malton, on Tuesday April 7 and questioned on suspicion of sexual activity with an underage girl and taking, making and distributing indecent images of children (IIOC).
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Officers searched houses and seized mobile phones and other devices as part of the arrests.
Both men have been released on conditional bail while the investigation continues.
A girl has also been supported by trained officers and given safeguarding measures in connection with the case.
On Friday April 17, two men in the Skipton area were also arrested on suspicion of possessing IIOC and sexual activity with a child.
Detectives were acting on intelligence gathered from an online application in the days leading up to the arrests.
Both men, aged 33 and 38, have been released on conditional bail while enquiries continue.
Two men from Harrogate and York have also been arrested, in separate cases, as part of the crackdown.
The 29-year-old Harrogate man was arrested by the Online Abuse & Exploitation Team on April 9 on suspicion of possessing IIOC and causing or inciting sexual activity with a child.
The 65-year-old from York meanwhile was arrested following intelligence he had been "engaging in sexual communications with a 12-year-old girl on messaging and video chat sites", North Yorkshire Police said.
Both men have also been released on conditional bail while enquiries continue.
Urgent safeguarding visits have also been made by the force regarding two children, both aged under 12, who had made indecent images of themselves which they had posted online. They are receiving ongoing support to ensure they remain safe.
Detective Sergeant Steve Alderson, of the Online Abuse & Exploitation Team, said: “Child abusers might think they can get away with their sickening offending due to coronavirus social distancing rules, especially those targeting vulnerable young people who are currently spending even more time online.
“They would be greatly mistaken to believe this as our action across North Yorkshire and York in recent weeks has shown.
“If someone is involved in child abuse or child sexual exploitation offences, be it online or directly, they can expect a knock on the door from the police and they will be brought to justice.”
Det Sgt Alderson added: “We urge parents and carers to get up to speed about online safety and talk to young people about the dangers. There is a great deal of help and advice available to make this important task easier.
“We also urge victims not to suffer in silence. Please seek professional support from the police and our partner agencies. We are here to help you.”
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