Children’s charity reveals growth in online grooming

Police figures obtained by the NSPCC show a growth in recorded crimes involving sexual communication with a child, with predators increasingly using Instagram.

Joe Lepper | 4th Mar 19
Image shows young girl on an iPad

More than 5,000 online child grooming offences have been recorded by police over the last 18 months, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC.

A Freedom of Information Act request by the children’s charity to England and Wales police forces found there had been a total of 5,161 crimes recorded over the last 18 months involving sexual communication with a child.

There has also been a 50% rise in such offences being recorded over the last six months, compared to the same period last year. Over the same period there has been a 200% increase in the use of Instagram by online predators to target and abuse children.

Among victims is Emily (not real name), who was 13 when she was groomed online by a 24-year-old man claiming to be a 16-year-old.

“It escalated very quickly from there,” said Emily.

“We exchanged texts which quickly became sexual, then photos and videos before arranging for him to come and pick me up after school. He drove me somewhere quiet… and had sex with me. I was bleeding and crying. This was my first sexual experience.”

Calls for social network regulation

The figures have been released as part of the charities’ #WildWestWeb campaign calling for tougher regulation on social network so that they have a legal duty of care to protect children.

The campaign is also calling for an independent regulator with the power to investigate and fine social networks that fail to protect children.

“These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks,” said NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless.

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