NSPCC Reports Rise In Social Media Grooming

The NSPCC has reported record numbers of sexual grooming crimes across Yorkshire & The Humber with social media platforms being used to target children.

Sexual grooming crimes in Yorkshire & The Humber up by more than 50% with record numbers of children across the country targeted on Instagram.

  • More than 7,500 crimes in England and Wales recorded in just two years of new offence coming into force.
  • 770 of those offences recorded in the two year period were in Yorkshire & The Humber.
  • Over one in five offences were against children aged 11 or under in England and Wales.
  • Police figures show instances of grooming on Instagram have doubled.
  • Legislation to protect children online must be prioritised.

Grooming crimes recorded by police in Yorkshire & The Humber have soared by 59% in the last year, data obtained by the NSPCC has revealed.

In the Yorkshire & The Humber region there were 473 offences of sexual communication with a child recorded in the year to April 2019 compared with 297 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. The offence came into force on April 3, 2017, following an NSPCC campaign.

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.

In 2018/19 in England and Wales the number of recorded instances of the use of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, was more than double that of the previous year.

Overall in the last two years, Facebook-owned apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp) and Snapchat were used in nearly 75% of the instances where police in Yorkshire & The Humber 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. 

The NSPCC believes it is now crucial that Boris Johnson’s Government makes a public commitment to draw up these Online Harms laws and implement robust regulation for tech firms to force them to protect children as a matter of urgency.

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.”

The NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign is calling for social media regulation to require platforms to:

  • Take proactive action to identify and prevent grooming on their sites by:

·       Using Artificial Intelligence to detect suspicious behaviour.

·       Sharing data with other platforms to better understand the methods offenders use and flag suspicious accounts.

·       Turning off friend suggestion algorithms for children and young people, as they make it easier for groomers to identify and target children.

  • Design young people’s accounts with the highest privacy settings, such as geo-locators off by default, contact details being private and unsearchable and livestreaming limited to contacts only.

The charity wants to see tough sanctions for tech firms that fail to protect their young users – including steep fines for companies, boardroom bans for directors, and a new criminal offence for platforms that commit gross breaches of the duty of care.

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