Social media like Facebook and Snapchat have been used in 33 cases of child grooming in Sussex in the last year, new figures reveal.
Since a new anti-grooming law came into force last year more than 3,000 offences have been recorded across the country.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of childrens charity NSPCC, said: “These numbers are far higher than we had predicted, and every single sexual message from an adult to a child can have a huge impact for years to come.”
Lucie (not her real name) is from the Sussex area, and has bravely come forward to tell her story.
She said: “I remember thinking at the time that it might be wrong but we’d been friends for a long time so I thought it would be fine. No one had ever spoken to me about abuse before.”
Social networks must be forced to design extra protections for childrenPeter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC
In the 2,097 cases where police forces revealed the methods of grooming, 70 per cent involved the use of Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram.
Mr Wanless added: “Social networks have been self-regulated for a decade and it’s absolutely clear that children have been harmed as a result.
“I urge Digital Secretary Matt Hancock to follow through on his promise and introduce safety rules backed up in law and enforced by an independent regulator with fining powers.
“Social networks must be forced to design extra protections for children into their platforms, including algorithms to detect grooming to prevent abuse from escalating.”
Of the total figure, 33 offences were recorded by Sussex Police.
Following the NSPCC’s #WildWestWeb campaign, Digital Secretary Matt Hancock announced that laws will be brought in to regulate social networks, to keep children safe and prevent harms such as grooming.
The charity is now campaigning to ensure those laws are sufficiently robust to prevent grooming and to truly keep children safe. It is calling on Government to:
- Create mandatory safety rules that social networks are legally required to follow
- Establish an independent regulator to enforce safety laws and fine non-compliant site
- Require social media sites to publish annual safety reports
- Force platforms to develop technology to detect grooming using algorithms
It comes ahead of the NSPCC’s annual flagship conference How Safe Are Our Children? which begins on Wednesday 20 June and has the theme Growing Up Online.
The new crime of Sexual Communication with a Child came into force on 3 April, 2017 following an NSPCC campaign and in the first year a total of 3,171 crimes were recorded by police – amounting to nine grooming offences per day.
Where police disclosed the gender and age of the victim, girls aged between 12 and 15 were recorded as being the victim in 62 per cent of cases. And under-11s were recorded as the victim in nearly a quarter of cases.
Contact offences such as rape and sexual assault were among those recorded in connection with grooming offences.
How Safe Are Our Children begins on Wednesday 20 June at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, in Westminster, London.
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