Data obtained by the NSPCC has revealed that grooming crimes recorded by Thames Valley police (TVP) have increased by 140% in the last year – almost four times the national rate of increase.
TVP recorded 274 offences of sexual communication with a child in the year to April 2019, compared with 114 in the previous year.
In England and Wales there were 4,373 offences of sexual communication with a child recorded in the year to April 2019, compared with 3,217 in the previous year, an increase of 36%.
The offence came into force on April 3, 2017, following an NSPCC campaign.
A parent of a 12-year-old victim of grooming said:
“Our children should be safe in their bedrooms, but they’re not. They should be safe from messages from strangers if their accounts are on private, but they’re not.”
The data obtained from 43 police forces in England and Wales under Freedom of Information laws also revealed that, where age was provided, one in five victims were aged just 11 or younger.
Overall in the last two years, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat were used in 77% of the instances where Thames Valley police recorded and provided the communication method.
The Government has indicated it will publish a draft Online Harms Bill early next year, following the NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign. The proposals would introduce independent regulation of social networks, with tough sanctions if they fail to keep children safe on their platforms.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said:
“It’s now clearer than ever that Government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms.
“Despite the huge amount of pressure that social networks have come under to put basic protections in place, children are being groomed and abused on their platforms every single day. These figures are yet more evidence that social networks simply won’t act unless they are forced to by law. The Government needs to stand firm and bring in regulation without delay.”