Online child grooming offences rose during lockdown with more than 13 crimes committed every day, with half involving Facebook apps, according to police figures.
The number of grooming crimes increased by 13 per cent to 1,220 during the three months of lockdown, according to the data obtained by the children’s charity NSPCC, with Facebook-owned Instagram seeing a 40 per cent rise in its share of the offences by suspected paedophiles.
The figures show Facebook-owned apps, including WhatsApp, accounted for 51 per cent of the cases where a site was mentioned.
Instagram is increasingly being exploited by offenders and was used in 37 per cent of grooming cases where the platform was recorded, compared with 29 per cent over the previous three years.
Snapchat was used in 20 per cent of instances for which data was available.
Offences have also increased annually in the three years prior to lockdown. There were a total of 12,925 offences recorded by police in England and Wales from April 2017 to March 2020 (equivalent to 12 a day) with experts saying poorly designed social media sites are putting children at risk.
The pandemic has created a “perfect storm” for online offenders and believed the lockdown figures could mark the start of a surge in online grooming crimes.
With ongoing coronavirus restrictions across the UK, there remains the risk of online abuse will continue to spike, and many more offences may come to light when children report them at school.
One girl who contacted NSPCC’s Childline during the pandemic said: “I am 12, and I don’t have social media but I wanted to get online and chat to people since my friends had done it and told me it would be fun.
“It started off fine with the occasional ‘hi’ and then men started sending disturbing pictures and saying really personal things.”
Mr Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “Families have long paid the price for big tech’s failure to protect children from abuse, but the Prime Minister has the chance to turn the tide and put responsibility of firms to clean up the mess they created.
“As the pandemic intensifies the threat children face online, bold and ambitious action is needed in the form of a world-leading Online Harms Bill.
“This means legislation that is tough on online crimes against children and regulation that holds tech companies and bosses financially and criminally responsible if they continue to turn a blind eye to entirely avoidable harm.”
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on child protection, said: “In an increasingly digitally connected world, perpetrators of child abuse are conducting more and more of their activities online. Offenders use the internet to access and share child abuse images, and to make contact with and groom children directly.
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