Posted: Wed 6th Jul 2022

NSPCC warns of a ‘tsunami’ of online child abuse as grooming crimes rise by more than 80% in four years

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jul 6th, 2022


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Exclusive figures obtained by the NSPCC reveal online grooming crimes recorded by police continues to climb and have jumped by more than 80% in four years. 

In 2021/22 there were 6,156 Sexual Communication with a Child offences – an increase on the previous year and almost 120 offences-a-week on average. 

Analysis of Freedom of Information data from 41 UK police forces shows an 84% rise since 2017/18, taking the total to more than 27,000 offences since 2017.

Figures for sexual communication with a child  offences provided by the four police forces in Wales show 274  in the year 2017/18  and 326 in the year 2021/22

The NSPCC is warning record levels of online child sexual abuse seen during the pandemic have not subsided and may mean a long-term increase in risk.

The charity said the sheer scale of offending shows the vital importance of ensuring that the Online Safety Bill effectively tackles child sexual abuse and has practical suggestions for how this is best done.

This should include giving the regulator, Ofcom, the powers to proactively tackle abuse in private messaging, making platforms work together to stop grooming pathways and stopping offenders from using social networks to organise abuse. 

The NSPCC’s research also reveals a number of other significant findings:

  • The analysis shows the stark reality of sexual violence faced by girls on social media. Four in five (82%) of grooming cases last year were against girls, where the gender was known. 12- to 15-year-old girls made up 39% of all victims where the age and gender was recorded

 

  • The figures reveal the calculated way offenders target children through well-established grooming pathways, with abusers contacting children on social media and gaming sites and coercing them to produce self-generated child abuse images.

 

  • Meta-owned platforms were used in 38% of instances where the means of communication was known, while Snapchat was used by groomers more than any other platform, in a third of offences where a site was recorded (33%).

 

  • The data shows grooming is increasingly a cross-platform problem, with police recording 70 different apps and games involved in grooming crimes in the last 12 months alone. Multiple social media sites were often used in the same offence.

One 15-year-old girl who was groomed on multiple sites told Childline: “I’ve been chatting with this guy online who’s like twice my age. This all started on Instagram but lately all our chats have been on WhatsApp. 

“He seemed really nice to begin with, but then he started making me do these things to ‘prove my trust’ to him, like doing video chats with my chest exposed. Every time I did these things for him, he would ask for more and I felt like it was too late to back out. 

“This whole thing has been slowly destroying me and I’ve been having thoughts of hurting myself.”

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “Online grooming is taking place at unprecedented levels and only concerted action will turn the tide on this tsunami of preventable abuse.” 

“The crucial Online Safety Bill is the opportunity to deliver the legislative change we urgently need to address head on these preventable crimes against children.”

“We strongly welcome the Government’s ambition to deliver world-leading legislation. But as it seems increasingly clear that the pandemic has resulted in a long-term increase in the abuse threat, the current proposals must go further now to tackle online sexual violence and prevent avoidable abuse.”

Digital Minister Chris Philp was due to address an NSPCC event in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon where experts and campaigners with lived experience of abuse set out the case for a strong Online Safety Bill. 

The charity is asking the public to email their MP to support amendments to the legislation that aim to improve its response to child sexual abuse. 

The NSPCC has set out a five-point action plan for the Online Safety Bill to systemically prevent avoidable child sexual abuse. 

Polling shows widespread public support for the measures to be adopted so the legislation achieves its ambition of giving children receive a higher standard of protection online. 

  1. Give the regulator powers to proactively tackle abuse in private messaging

Two thirds of child abuse is currently found in private messaging so the NSPCC welcomes that it will be in scope of the Bill.

But they want Ofcom to be given power to proactively require firms to use technology to detect and disrupt grooming and the sharing of child abuse images. 

  1. Make platforms work together to tackle grooming pathways 

The NSPCC said these figures show grooming doesn’t just happen on one site and offenders use well known grooming pathways to target children. 

Companies should have a clear legal duty to address cross platform harm and legally co-operate with each other to disrupt grooming.

  1. Stop offenders from using social networks to organise abuse – breadcrumbing

Offenders perfectly legally use social media to form networks, advertise a sexual interest in children and signpost to illegal child abuse content hosted on third party sites. 

The NSPCC want the Bill amended to combat the ways offenders facilitate abuse on social media, which they say could prevent millions of interactions with accounts that contribute to grooming.

  1. Adopt a Violence Against Women and Girls Code of Practice 

The Government should commit to a statutory code of practice on violence against women and girls to ensure the Online Safety Bill has a systemic  and enforceable focus on online sexual violence.

  1. A children’s watchdog that represents children’s needs 

Children make up one in five UK internet users but are inherently vulnerable, according to the NSPCC.

The charity said the Online Safety Bill can achieve its ambition to give children a higher standard of protection by creating a statutory watchdog to promote children’s interests, funded by a levy on the tech industry. 

This user advocacy body would ensure child protection is front and centre of regulation, prevent harm by acting as an early warning system to flag emerging risks and call for swift action. This would be similar to the role played by Citizens Advice in the energy and postal sectors.

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