NSPCC campaign for tougher legislation following figures into online grooming

PUBLISHED: 00:20 01 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

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Nearly 100 reports of online grooming has been made to Devon and Cornwall Police in a 18-month period.

The figures have been released as part of a campaign calling for government ministers to tame the ‘wild west web’ inhabited by online groomers.

The NSPCC revealed on Friday (March 1) more than 5,000 offences were reported across England and Wales between April 2017 and September 2018 – including 94 offences to Devon and Cornwall Police.

In the figures, girls aged 12 to 15 were most likely to be targeted by groomers, with the youngest victim aged just five.

The data was obtained from two Freedom of Information requests to all 43 police forces in England and Wales, including the number of recorded offences in the six month period between April 1 2018 and September 30 2018.

Following the announcement, NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless called for tougher regulations for technology companies ahead of the government publishing its ‘online harms’ white paper.

The charity campaigned for three years for the anti-grooming law of Sexual Communication with a Child in England and Wales, which came into force on April 3 2017.

Mr Wanless 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.”

Instagram saw the largest increase in reported online grooming activity over the 18 month period, rising from 136 cases between April 2017 and September 2017 to 428 in 2018.

The charity raised concerns that the majority of grooming offences continued to take place on the three largest social media sites, with police data revealing a high percentage of online grooming occurring on Facebook and Snapchat.

Mr Wanless said: “It is hugely concerning to see the sharp spike in grooming offences on Instagram, and it is vital that the platform designs basic protection more carefully into the service it offers young people.

“After 10 years of failed self-regulation by social networks, it is crucial that the Government’s imminent online harms white paper includes new laws that tackle online grooming once and for all.”

A spokesman for Facebook and Instagram said: “Keeping young people safe on our platforms is our top priority and child exploitation of any kind is not allowed. We use advanced technology and work closely with the police and CEOP to aggressively fight this type of content and protect young people.”

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