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Online child sex offences soar by two thirds in West Mercia

By Dominic Robertson | Crime | Published:

There has been an increase of two thirds in the number of child sex offences using the internet recorded by Shropshire's police force, according to new figures.

There has been an increase of two thirds increase in the number of child sex offences using the internet recorded by Shropshire's police force, according to new figures.

Last year, a record 8,224 child sexual offences logged by police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had an online element, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC through a Freedom of Information request.

The charity says that children are increasingly being targeted on the web by sex offenders – with an average of 22 crimes a day taking place online last year, according to the data.

In the four years since forces began using ‘cyberflags’ to record whether a child sexual offence had an internet element, the number of these crimes recorded by West Mercia Police, which covers Shropshire, has risen by 67 per cent from 114 in 2015/16 to 191 in 2018/19. Nationally the total has doubled from 4,042.

A total of 40 out of 44 forces provided the NSPCC with data on cyber-related sex crimes against under 18s including online grooming, sexual communication with a child, and rape.

The charity is now calling on the next Prime Minister to prioritise online safety and bring in laws that deliver a change in protection against abuse.

Harms

For offences where the age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim but there were 185 offences committed against children aged ten and under, even including babies yet to reach their first birthday.

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The NSPCC said it fears that the figures may not reveal the true extent of the problem due to potential under-recording of the role of online activity in the crimes and wide logging variation across forces. It also comes on top of other online harms against children recorded by police such as indecent image offences.

The figures have been revealed ahead of the NSPCC’s flagship annual conference 'How Safe Are Our Children?', which started yesterday in London.

It comes just days before the Government closes its consultation on its Online Harms White Paper, which proposes to introduce an independent regulator to enforce a legal duty of care on tech companies to keep users safe on their platforms.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO, said: “Behind each offence is a child suffering at the hands of sex offenders and, worryingly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg.

“Far too many children are drowning in a sea of online threats so it’s now time for the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be, to cast out the life jacket.

“He must hold his nerve and introduce an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of abuse and harmful content.”

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