Online grooming cases rise as abusers turn to social media

The number of children being sexually groomed on social media channels has increased by a third in the past year, according to new figures.

Sep 11, 2019
By Tony Thompson

A Freedom of Information request submitted by the NSPCC to police forces in England and Wales found there were at least 4,373 offences of sexual communication with a child recorded in the year to April 2019, compared with 3,217 in the previous year.

More than 70 per cent of reported grooming took place on the social media networks Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Of those platforms, Facebook-owned Instagram was where the most grooming took place, with the number of offences reported doubling last year to more than 900.

The NSPCC also found that 20 per cent of the victims were aged under 12, despite the minimum age requirement of the social media platforms being 13, and 16 for WhatsApp. Age limits are not currently enforced by any effective means.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said it was now clearer than ever that government “has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms”.

He added: “The NSPCC wants young people’s accounts to default to the highest privacy settings, with location information off, contact details private and livestreaming limited to people they know.

“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.”

Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp, said in a statement: “There is no place for grooming or child exploitation on our platforms and we use technology to proactively find and quickly remove it.

“We also investigate reports from the community with a content and security team of over 30,000 people who respond to reports 24/7.”

A government spokesperson added: “We have taken strong action to tackle this vile abuse, from developing AI (artificial intelligence) tools to identify and block grooming conversations to our online harms White Paper, which will place a legal duty of care on social media companies to protect their users.”

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