THE NUMBER of cyber-related child sexual offences recorded by West Mercia Police increased by 87 per cent in 12 months, says the NSPCC.
The children’s charity says offences increased from 114 in 2015/16 to 213 last year with the majority of victims in West Mercia aged 13 to 15 but ten were 10 years old or younger.
The shock figures have prompted the NSPCC to call on the next government to make online safety a top priority.
It says last year across England and Wales, 5,653 child sex crimes committed against children as young as three had an online element.
A total of 39 police forces reported cyber-related sex crimes against under-18s that included rape, grooming, and sexual assault.
This number has risen by 44 per cent from 2015/16 when 39 forces across England and Wales who responded to the same Freedom of Information request by the NSPCC recorded 3,903 cyber-related sexual offences.
This is the second year police have been required to record – ‘cyber flag’ – any crime that involved the internet.
The latest figures show police are recording an average of 15 internet-related sex crimes against children a day, highlighting a worrying trend in how predators are using the internet to target children.
For offences where age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim (257) but there were nearly 100 offences nationwide committed against children aged ten and under, with the youngest victim aged just three-years-old.
The NSPCC is asking the next government to prioritise children’s online safety.
It is demanding:
- An independent regulator to hold social media companies to account and fine them where they fail to protect children
- Government to draw up minimum standards that internet companies must meet to safeguard children
- Children to be automatically offered safer social media accounts, with default privacy settings, to protect them from harmful content and offenders who seek to prey on them.
The NSPCC is also urging police forces to ensure all officers understand how people use the web to prey on children, how to investigate such crimes, and effectively safeguard victims.