William Eichler 21 June 2016

Thousands of sex offences against children ‘cyber-flagged’ by police

More than 3,000 sex crimes involving the Internet were committed against children last year, the NSPCC reveals.

The children’s charity acquired the figures through a Freedom of Information request made to 38 police forces in England and Wales for the the period 2015/16.

The offences reported included sexual assaults, grooming victims before meeting them, inciting children to take part in a sex act and over 100 rapes.

The charity also said 535 of the victims were 13 years old, 272 were under 10, and the youngest was a one year old baby.

In April last year the Home Office made it mandatory for the police to record - ‘cyber-flag’ - sexual offences committed against children over the Internet. These are the first figures to be released.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: ‘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.

‘By revealing this first year of data we hope to highlight how police are under increasing pressure to cope with online offences so we have to ensure they have the resources and training to make them fit for tackling crime in the 21st century.’

Mr Wanless also called on the Government to make mental health support available to every abused child.

Responding to the charity’s findings, Cllr Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: ‘Online abuse has been an area of growing concern for a number of years, and councils across the country have taken steps to make sure that teachers, social workers, children and parents are aware of the risks and know how to respond appropriately.’

Cllr Perry continued that referrals to local children’s services continue to rise and he noted councils are continuing to try and protect these services from funding cuts.

The councillor also said the number of children dying due to homicide or assault has fallen by 69% in England since 1985 and remains in long-term decline, although he cautioned against complacency.

‘We can never be complacent when it comes to the safety of children and young people, and it is right that poor practice is highlighted and improvement demanded where necessary.

‘However, we must take care that in our rush to improve, we don’t lose sight of the unreported excellence of the vast majority of social workers, whose tough decisions and swift actions are saving children’s lives every day.’

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