Rise in child grooming on social network sites

PUBLISHED: 09:33 13 March 2019

NSPCC release figures for recorded online child grooming offences in England and Wales. Picture: Getty Images

NSPCC release figures for recorded online child grooming offences in England and Wales. Picture: Getty Images

Archant

An ‘alarming’ increase in the number of children being groomed on social networking sites has led to an appeal for stricter regulation.

Figures from Avon and Somerset Constabulary show 300 crimes of sexual communication with a child younger than 18 were recorded over the past 18 months.

Girls aged 12-15 were most likely to be targeted by groomers, and victims included children as young as five years old.

The number of children groomed via Instagram has tripled in just 18 months.

Between April 2017 and April 2018, 10 per cent of victims were groomed via Instagram, compared with 28 per cent between April and September last year.

The NSPCC is calling on social networks to do more to protect children.

Head of the NSPCC South West, Sharon Copsey, said: “It is alarming how many young people are being groomed online, and it’s clear that social networks need to be doing more to protect children in their digital worlds.

“Many children and young people don’t understand they have been groomed or that what has happened is abuse, so it’s common for victims of online grooming not to tell anyone what is happening to them.

“It’s important parents have regular and open conversations with their children about their online activity – by having these chats, it lets children know they can talk to their parents if they’re feeling worried about something they have seen or heard online.

“Our schools service delivers ‘Speak Out, Stay Safe’ assemblies in primary schools across the Avon and Somerset area to help children know the different kinds of abuse, recognise the signs and identify a trusted adult they can speak to if they have a worry or concern.”

The Government is due to publish a white paper setting out new laws to tackle online harms.

The NSPCC is urging ministers to bring in statutory regulation to enforce a legal duty of care to children on social networks, with hefty fines if companies fail.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks.

“We cannot wait for the next tragedy before tech companies are made to act.”

Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or childline.org.uk

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