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Victims as young as one abused by online predators, says NSPCC – BBC News

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A one-year-old baby was among thousands of child victims of sex abuse in 2015-16, according to police data on abuse that involved the internet.

The NSPCC said 38 out of 44 police forces in England and Wales had recorded more than 3,000 sex crimes with an online element against children between April 2015 and March 2016.

More than 270 offences involved children under the age of 10.

This is the first year police have had to flag internet-related abuse.

The sexual offences included inciting children to take part in a sexual act, grooming victims before meeting them and live-streaming abuse.

There were also more than 100 rapes involving predators operating online in the last year, the NSPCC said.

But the NSPCC reported that “a small number” of police forces said they did not know they were meant to, or were failing to, “cyber flag” sex abuse cases with an online element. The charity was unable to identify which police forces. The “cyber flag” became mandatory on 1 April 2015.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said the true number of sexual offences was likely to be “far higher” because six police forces, including the Metropolitan Police, did not provide data, and because the figures did not encompass crimes which were not reported to police.

‘Confirmed fears’

The NSPCC obtained the information through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, which asked for the number of recorded crimes under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 on under-18s that had a “cyber flag” attached to them between 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016.

Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) were among the forces that did not respond to the FoI request.

But PSNI figures obtained by the NSPCC show there were 139 recorded sex offences against children in Northern Ireland between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2016 that involved the internet.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council says internet-related abuse was one of the factors behind an estimated 80% increase in the reporting of child sex offences in the last four years.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey from the council said: “More research is needed to understand these trends and whether they reflect greater confidence among victims to come forward, better identification by professionals, or an actual increase in offending.”

However, he added research suggests offences were still being under-reported and the NSPCC figures appeared to be just the “tip of the iceberg”.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “These figures confirm our fears that the online world is playing a significant role in the sexual abuse of children in the UK.

“It’s clear that a large volume of sexual assaults and rapes of children have involved the use of the internet – for example by grooming victims before abusing them offline, or live-streaming the abuse.

“We know grooming is on the rise because children are increasingly telling our Childline service how they are being targeted online.

“Predatory adults posing as children try to meet them or blackmail them into meeting up or performing sexual acts on webcams, which obviously terrifies them and can leave some feeling suicidal.”


Tips to help children stay safe online

Image copyright Thinkstock
  • Have conversations about online safety little and often
  • Show an interest in what your child does online
  • Know who your child is talking to online
  • Set rules and agree boundaries
  • Make sure that content is age-appropriate
  • Use parental controls to filter, restrict, monitor or report content
  • Check they know how to use privacy settings and reporting tools

Source: NSPCC


Mr Wanless said he hoped the statistics highlighted how police were under “increasing pressure” to combat online offences.

“We have to ensure they have the resources and training to make them fit for tackling crime in the 21st Century,” he said.

“And the government must make mental health support available to every child who has endured abuse.”

The Home Office says an offence should be flagged as having been committed online when the reporting officer believes that, on the balance of probability, the offence was committed, in full or in part, through a computer, computer network or other computer-enabled device, such as smartphones or tablets.

This includes sending or receiving emails, the use of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or chat rooms and messaging services.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36578945

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