Hundreds of North East children targeted by internet groomers in last year, figures show

A charity has revealed the shocking number of North East children targeted by internet perverts since a new anti-grooming law came into force a year ago.

Monday, 18th June 2018, 1:53 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 2:37 pm
The new law came into force last April.
The new law came into force last April.

A total of 240 crimes were recorded by he three police forces in the North East during the last 12 months, with the youngest victim aged just six.

The new crime of sexual communication with a child came into force on April 3, 2017 following a campaign by children’s charity the NSPCC.

A total of 3,171 crimes were recorded in England and Wales in the first year, including 95 in the Cleveland force area, 88 in Durham and 57 in the Northumbria area.

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Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were the top three most-recorded sites out of 80 different methods used in grooming offences across the country.

Digital secretary Matt Hancock announced that new laws to regulate social networks to keep children safe would be brought in following the NSPCC’s #WildWestWeb campaign.

The charity is now campaigning to ensure the laws are robust enough to prevent grooming.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless 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.

“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.”

The NSPCC’s annual flagship conference How Safe Are Our Children? begins on Wednesday and has the theme ‘growing up online’.

Police revealed which methods groomers used in 2,097 of the cases over the last year.

Records showed that Facebook was used in nearly 30% of those cases, with Snapchat and Instagram each used in about a fifth of cases.

Where police disclosed the gender and age of the victim, girls aged 12 to 15 were recorded as being the victim in 62% of cases, and under-11s were recorded as the victim in nearly a quarter of cases.

Contact offences including rape and sexual assault were among those recorded in connection with grooming offences.