More children being targeted online by sex offenders, NSPCC warns

By Martyn Landi, Press Association Technology Correspondent

Children are being increasingly targeted online by sex offenders, figures obtained by the NSPCC suggest.

The children’s charity said a record 8,224 child sexual offences logged by police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year had an online element – an average of 22 a day.

The charity, which obtained the data through a freedom of information request and received responses from 40 out of 44 police forces, urged the Government to prioritise new laws that offer new levels of online safety for young people.

On Monday, NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless criticised Facebook’s increasing use of encryption to secure messages on its platform, warning it was a “risk and a backward step” in keeping children safe online.

Peter Wanless (Jon Challicom/NSPCC/PA)

Speaking about the charity’s latest findings, Mr Wanless said: “Behind each offence is a child suffering at the hands of sex offenders and, worryingly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg.

“Far too many children are drowning in a sea of online threats so it’s now time for the next prime minister, whoever he may be, to cast out the life jacket.

“He must hold his nerve and introduce an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of abuse and harmful content.”

According to the figures, 13 was the most common age of victims where ages were recorded, while 185 offences were committed against children aged 10 and under, the NSPCC said.

The figures have been published on the day Home Secretary Sajid Javid is announcing a new cross-Government strategy to help eradicate child sexual abuse.

Sajid Javid (Yui Mok/PA)

Speaking at the NSPCC’s How Safe are our Children? conference in London, Mr Javid will encourage the Government and law enforcement to take an integrated approach to tackling abuse, recognising how online and offline abuse overlap.

“The Government must build on our existing work to stop all forms of child sexual abuse and support all victims and survivors,” Mr Javid is expected to say.

“So I’m pleased to announce that later this year we will publish a national strategy covering our comprehensive response to all forms of child sexual abuse.”

In April, the Government published its white paper on online harms, which threatens tech giants with large fines and criminal liability for bosses of firms that do not comply with a new duty of care, overseen by an independent regulator.

The white paper, published jointly by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Home Office, proposes strict new rules that require firms to take responsibility for users and their safety, as well as the content on their services.