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NSPCC calls for tough regulation of social networks after survey findings

NSPCC has launched its Wild West Web campaign Picture: NSPCC

NSPCC has launched its Wild West Web campaign Picture: NSPCC

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An average of one child per classroom in the east of England has received a naked or semi-naked image online from an adult, a new survey has revealed.

The national survey of nearly 40,000 children, conducted by the NSPCC, also found that one in 50 schoolchildren sent a nude or semi-nude image to an adult.

The children’s charity asked young people aged seven to 16 about the risks they face when using the internet and says the results highlight the dangers children are exposed to.

The charity is now calling on the Government to create an independent regulator for social networks to force platforms to detect groomers using their sites through its Wild West Web campaign.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said social network sites have become “a gateway for child abuse”.

“Grooming can no longer be shrugged off as secondary to other online crimes.

“It is happening now, it is happening to very young children, it is happening so frequently that it’s becoming normalised, and it is not only coming from adult strangers, but also from known adults. Social networks have become a gateway for child abuse.

“The NSPCC has launched a petition calling on digital secretary Jeremy Wright and home secretary Sajid Javid to put an end to the Wild West Web.

“We need tough regulation of social networks to make sure there are fundamental protections for children in place whatever sites they’re using.”

Freedom of Information requests submitted by the NSPCC revealed there had been more than 3,000 offences recorded in England and Wales within the first year of a new crime of sexual communication with a child.

Suffolk police recorded 52 offences, while 60 cases took place in Essex.

Where police recorded what platforms were used by groomers, either Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat was used in 70% of cases.

The Government said it cannot tackle the issue alone and is currently reviewing options for a white paper.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Online grooming is an appalling crime that this Government is working to tackle. We are clear that what is illegal offline is illegal online.

“We have provided law enforcement with the tools and resources they need to identify grooming victims and bring offenders to justice.

“Last year, we provided police forces in England and Wales with more than £20 million to enable dedicated officers to operate online in forums and chat rooms to identify and pursue offenders.

“But we cannot tackle this problem alone, and while tech companies have made positive steps in this area, they must continue to do everything possible to prevent their platforms being used to abuse and exploit children.

“We are currently reviewing options for a white paper, setting out details of the legislation to be brought forward, which will be published later this year.”

Suffolk police said it works with partner agencies to educate children about online dangers.

Charlotte Driver, cybercrime supervisor at Suffolk Constabulary, said: “Within the cybercrime team we deal with disclosures of this nature regularly. “The findings within the NSPCC survey are unfortunately a true reflection of the crime types that we investigate.

“We want young people to feel they can come forward and talk to police if someone is sharing images or asking for images. We encourage reporting.

“Police and partner agencies work alongside children and young people to educate and enlighten them around the dangers and risks posed online. “Sharing photographs means you lose control of that image, and the consequences can be far reaching, so we work to raise awareness of the dangers of youth produced imagery or ‘sexting’ and being pressured to send nudes by adults.”

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