The internet was used to commit 72 child sexual offences in Northamptonshire last year says the NSPCC, as it calls on the next government to make online safety a top priority.
This number has risen by sharply from 2015/16 when Northamptonshire Police, who responded to a same Freedom of Information request by the NSPCC, recorded 59 cyber-related sexual offences.
In England and Wales over 5,600 child sex crimes committed against children had an online element including rape, sexual assault, and grooming.
This is the second year police have been required to record, or ‘cyber flag’, any crime that involved the internet. The latest figures show that police across England and Wales are recording an average of 15 internet-related sex crimes against children a day, highlighting a worrying trend in how predators are using the internet to target children.
Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC said: “These figures confirm our fears that offenders are exploiting the internet to target children for their own dark deeds.
“Children also tell our Childline service that they are being targeted online by some adults who pose as children and try to meet them, or persuade them to perform sexual acts on webcams, before blackmailing them. This terrifies them and can leave some feeling worthless, depressed, and suicidal.
“We cannot idly sit by knowing that more and more innocent young people are being harmed online. Today’s worrying data leaves the next government with no choice but to urgently address this issue. We are calling on them to force internet companies and social media sites to adhere to rules that keep their young users safe.”
For offences where age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim but there were nearly 100 offences committed against children aged ten and under, with the youngest victim aged just three-years-old.
In the wake of the revelations, the NSPCC has called on the next government to make child online safety a top priority.
It is demanding an independent regulator to hold social media companies to account and fine them where they fail to protect children.
It wants the Government to draw up minimum standards that internet companies must meet to safeguard children
The children’s charity also wants youngsters to be automatically offered safer social media accounts, with default privacy settings, to protect them from harmful content and offenders who seek to prey on them.
The NSPCC is also urging police forces to ensure all officers understand how people use the web to prey on children, how to investigate such crimes, and effectively safeguard victims.