Four in five victims of online grooming crimes are girls, NSPCC says

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More must be done to protect girls online, the NSPCC has said, after new figures showed four in five online grooming crimes reported since 2017 recorded them as the victim.

The charity is calling on new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to strengthen proposals in the draft Online Safety Bill to ensure girls are properly protected from online sexual abuse.

According to the NSPCC’s figures, gathered from Freedom of Information requests to police forces in England and Wales, since 2017/18, 83% of sexual communication with a child offences recorded girls as the victim where the gender was known, with those aged 12 to 15 the most likely to be targeted.

In total, the data shows there were 12,944 recorded offences where the gender was known between April 2017 and March 2021, with 10,722 of those recording the victim as female.

The figures also showed a sharp rise in the number of offences recorded against girls in general, with the data showing an increase of 60% between 2017/18 and 2020/21.

The charity has now asked the Government to act to ensure it lives up to its previously stated ambition of making the UK the safest place in the world for a child to be online.

The NSPCC has already called on the Government to fix “substantive weaknesses” in the draft Online Safety Bill, which is currently being examined and MPs and peers.

Last month, the charity warned that there were significant shortfalls in the Bill in its current form, and urged the Government to strengthen its plans in a number of areas, including stopping the spread of grooming across different apps.

In the wake of the latest figures around the scale of abuse targeting girls, the NSPCC is urging supporters to write to Ms Dorries to ask her to make sure children are at the heart of the Online Safety Bill.

“Any child can be a victim of online sexual abuse but the sheer number of girls being targeted is both alarming and a reminder of the failure of platforms to effectively protect their young users,” NSPCC head of policy, Anna Edmundson said.

“When the Government published its strategy on violence against women and girls earlier this year it made a commitment to tackle crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls – including those that take place online.

“One of the primary functions of the Online Safety Bill is to keep all children – including girls – safe when they go online. Now, the new Culture Secretary has the opportunity to fix the substantive weaknesses in the legislation so it does just that.”

In response, a Government spokesperson said: “Our new laws will be the most comprehensive in the world in protecting children online.

“Social media companies will need to clamp down on child abuse content and prevent young people from being groomed or exposed to harmful material.

“Failing firms will face hefty fines or have their sites blocked, and we will have the power to make senior managers criminally liable for failing to protect children.”

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