Online child sex crimes logged by police pass 10,000 in a year for first time

3 September 2020, 13:48

Five children are targeted by online sex offenders every week, new figures have revealed
Five children are targeted by online sex offenders every week, new figures have revealed. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

More than 10,000 online child sex offences have been logged by UK police forces in 12 months for the first time.

Data obtained by the NSPCC reveals 10,391 crimes were recorded by all 46 forces across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands for 2019/20.

In the last year, 265 recorded sexual offences against children were flagged by the PSNI as having an online element.

Five children are targeted by online sex offenders every week, new figures have revealed.

This is an increase of over 90% per cent in five years from 139 offences in 2015/16.

Figures from the PSNI, obtained by NSPCC Northern Ireland, reveal that in 2019 and 2020, there were 2,082 recorded offences against children under 18 years of age.

Natalie Whelehan, policy and public affairs manager at NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: "These figures suggest that online abuse was already rising before lockdown, and the risks to children appear to have spiked significantly since.

"It is now almost 17 months since the UK Government's original proposals for social media regulation were published and children continue to face preventable harm online.

"At the Hidden Harms Summit, the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) signalled he was determined to act.

"That's why he needs to prioritise making progress on a comprehensive Online Harms Bill this autumn, and pass legislation by the end of 2021, that sees tech firms held criminally and financially accountable if they put children at risk."

In one case, Olivia's daughter Emma (surnames withheld) was groomed and sexually exploited through an online game called Movie Star Planet from the age of six.

The abuser gained her trust then threatened her into sending him and other adults sexually explicit images and committing sexual acts for two years.

"He would threaten to expose her if she didn't do as she was told, that he would even put her in a shallow grave or kill us, her parents," Olivia said.

"As she got older, she is now 14, she began to struggle. Her behaviour changed, she became angry, depressed and would cry without really knowing why.

"She found it incredibly hard to make herself go into school and would ring me in tears, not knowing why she couldn't go through the door. It was horrible, I felt so helpless when she talked about self-harming and not wanting to go on living."

The NSPCC has been campaigning for a Duty of Care on tech firms since the launch of its Wild West Web campaign in 2018.

In April 2019, the Government published the Online Harms White Paper but is yet to produce the final consultation response.

The charity previously published a set of regulatory proposals setting out how social media regulation should work, called Taming the Wild West Web.

Adults concerned about a child online can contact the NSPCC Helpline confidentially for advice and support on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk.