Unfortunately, child sex offenders are increasingly exploiting the web with the latest stats showing 9,543 crimes recorded in the last year, pushing the NSPCC to demand the Government introduces a robust new law for social networks without delay.
In an example of what can happen, Molly lives in the South West of England and was 15 a when she met Gavin, who claimed to be 22. They were both members of a youth organisation. He added her as a friend on Facebook. He got her telephone number via Facebook and began to send her text messages. After a month and a half, the messages began getting more personal and sexual. She deleted the messages as she felt disgusted. He would send her messages asking to pick her up and take her to school. When she would ask if a friend could come along, he would refuse.
Now 18, Molly says a change in the law would help a lot of young people who are receiving sexual messages from adults and unsure how to handle the situation. After reporting the incidents Molly was supported to get help. She was referred to the Letting the Future in service.
It’s a service provided by the NSPCC in both its Swindon and Plymouth Service Centres. The programme provides children and young people who have been sexually abused the support they require to help them recover.
Rape, sexual assault and grooming are included in the crimes committed against children where the offender has contacted their victim on the internet. Cyber-related crimes made up 16% of the total number of child sexual offences recorded by police in England and Wales, between September 2017 and September last year.
The NSPCC fears this may not reveal the true extent of the problem due to wide variation and under-recording of the role of online in these crimes.
Jacky Wood, Children’s Services Practitioner in Plymouth says: ”This number could be just the tip of the iceberg. The threat posed to children is far more pressing than we can imagine and a change in the law is needed now to protect children from being exploited on the internet.”
The charity’s #WildWestWeb campaign is calling for an independent regulator with the power to investigate and fine social networks if they fall short in protecting children.
Just this week, in a report about online abuse experienced by people with disabilities, MPs on the Petitions Committee said the Government must accept that self-regulation of social media had failed.
And at the end of last year, in a report about the future of policing, the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended the regulation of internet companies.
One parent had a traumatising experience involving his child. His daughter, who is now 12, started chatting to an individual she believed to be a friend on popular video game Roblox when she was nine.
A year later, when she was in year six of Junior School, her ‘friend’ sent messages of a sexual nature to her. He wanted nude pictures of her.
Thankfully, her father had warned her about the dangers of chatting to individuals online, so she disclosed what had happened, and reported her offender to the police.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “It is time social networks were made to take responsibility and stopped allowing their platforms to be used as gateways for these devastating crimes.
Sites must be required to create safe accounts for children and take proactive steps to detect grooming so this behaviour can be disrupted before it escalates.
We urge the public to sign our petition calling on Government to introduce an independent regulator which has the power to fine social networks that fail in their duty in protecting children and young people from abuse.”
Please support NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign by signing the petition now.