Online child sexual abuse more than doubled in Thames Valley region during lockdown

Reports of online child sexual abuse have risen by 146% in March this year against the same month in 2019, Thames Valley Police says.

Thursday, 30th April 2020, 10:22 am

With the new government restrictions in place, many children are spending more time online to stay in touch with friends and loved ones as well as a way to stay entertained.

Sadly, Thames Valley Police is aware that some criminals are using these extraordinary circumstances as a way to exploit and target young people when they are online.

Officers are issuing a warning to parents and children about the signs to be on the lookout for, as well as to criminals who are seeking to use the change in circumstances for their own gain. They say they will not tolerate anyone who seeks to exploit children.

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Online sexual abuse is any type of sexual abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, online gaming or using mobile phones. In some cases this involves children being groomed or exploited by an adult.

The signs of online sexual abuse can be hard to spot and in these unprecedented times it is possible that these changes in behaviour may be mistakenly attributed to the change of circumstance or routine in which we all find ourselves.

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Darnell of the Thames Valley Police Protecting Vulnerable People unit, said: “Any child or young person that uses the internet or has a smartphone could be a victim of online sexual abuse and they can be at risk from people they know, as well as from strangers.

“Many young people are incredibly computer literate, have their own smart devices and games consoles and will be using the internet to stay in touch with friends whilst we all stay at home. But, those they are speaking to online may not be who they say they are and they can leave themselves vulnerable to those who will manipulate and groom children into what they feel is a trusting relationship.

“Whilst at home, I encourage parents and carers to take a look at the free online activity packs on the Thinkuknow website. These resources are released fortnightly from the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection command to support during the closure of schools during COVID-19. They contain two 15-minute activities, tailored to a number of different age groups and are focused on improving online safety.

“I also urge you to have a conversation with your children about privacy settings and ensure that they are secure on the apps and social networks that they are using.

“People who attempt to exploit children on line are very serious criminals, and we want to send a message to them that this type of offending will never be tolerated.

“These are extraordinary times, but our message remains the same as always – if you attempt to exploit children on the internet, you will be caught, brought to justice and will face severe consequences for your actions.”

If you are concerned for the safety of a child, call Thames Valley Police on 101, or the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.

If you’re concerned about the sexual behaviour of an adult or a child, call 101 or the Stop it Now helpline on 0808 1000 900.