NSPCC calls for social media regulation as Suffolk and Essex children targeted online by groomers
PUBLISHED: 14:55 18 April 2018
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Predators are using social media apps to send sex messages to children as young as 10 across Suffolk and Essex, a new study shows.
A new offence was introduced in April 2017 making it illegal for adults to groom a child online following a campaign by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
Previously, police could only intervene once they met in person.
In the first nine months of the legislation being in force, Essex Police and Suffolk Constabulary have both recorded 27 crimes each for ‘sexual communication with a child’, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC.
The youngest victim in both counties was just 10.
Sites used by paedophiles in the region include Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Whatsapp, as well lesser known apps such as Kik, Musical.ly, Oovoo and Tango.
The NSPCC is calling on the Government to regulate social networks to prevent grooming happening in the first place.
Nationally, Facebook and the apps it owns was used in half of cases where the site was recorded.
Peter Wanless, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Facebook should be leading the way, but instead it has demonstrated time and again that self-regulation isn’t working and social networks can’t be left to mark their own homework.”
A Home Office spokesman said it had provided law enforcement with the capabilities and resources to tackle the issue, but added technology companies must take their own steps to prevent child abuse on their platforms.
Tibbs Pinter, chief executive of charity Suffolk Young People’s Health Project, also known as 4YP, said: “Although the figures of online grooming in Suffolk are upsetting, I am sadly not surprised as it only takes a few people with rotten intentions to cause such a worrying impact.
“I believe young people should be able to use social media as it is a very helpful communicative tool to build friendships and relieve loneliness, anxiety and boredom. It is a shame that social media sites do not take more responsibility and are more accountable for these incidents, particularly as the youngest victim was only 10 years old. They, after all, make it possible for adults to exploit their apps and media whilst seeking to make huge profits from the services they provide.”
Mr Pinter said adults should take a collective responsibility to watch out for young users who may be naive to online dangers.
The NSPCC launched its Flaw in the Law campaign in 2014 because there was no legislation in place to punish adults who sent children sexual messages.
The new offence, which also applies to offline communications, carries a maximum two year prison sentence.
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