More than 10,000 online grooming crimes have been recorded by police under a new law that made it illegal to send sexual messages to children, the NSPCC has revealed. Parents need to be aware.
New figures obtained via freedom of information requests show that 10,119 offences of sexual communication with a child were recorded by police in England and Wales in the two and a half years since the law came into force, following a NSPCC campaign.
In the South West of England, more than a thousand offences were recorded by the five police forces in the region during that time.
Across the region, the number of offences is accelerating, with 23% of crimes taking place in the six months up to October last year, mirroring England and Wales for the same period.
But the NSPCC is warning there could be a sharper increase this year due to the unique threats caused by Coronavirus, that are being exacerbated by years of industry failure to design basic child protection into platforms.
The charity is now calling on the Prime Minister to urgently press ahead with legislation that would help prevent offenders from using social media to target children for sexual abuse.
The NSPCC also revealed that Facebook-owned apps were used in 56% in the region, from April 2017 to October 2019, where police recorded information about how a child was groomed.
This was slightly higher than the total percentage for England and Wales, which was 55%. Where the means of communication were provided. There were over 3,200 instances of Facebook-owned apps (Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp) being used, of which half involved Instagram. Snapchat was used over 1,060 times.
The NSPCC is calling on the Prime Minister to deliver an Online Harms Bill, that sets out a Duty of Care on tech firms to make their sites safer for children, within 18 months.
The charity wants his Government to publish a roadmap that sets out the timescales for a world-leading Bill to go through Parliament as a matter of urgency.
NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless spoke to Boris Johnson at a hidden harms round table last week and highlighted how coronavirus had created a perfect storm for abusers because platforms hadn’t done enough to tackle safety risks going into the crisis. He urged the Prime Minister to ensure there is no unnecessary delay to legislation.