Internet was used in 170 child sex cases in Lincolnshire in two year, children's charity reveals
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has revealed the figure as it calls on the next Government to make online safety a ‘top priority’.
The charity approached police forces across England and Wales with 38 forces reporting 5,653 child sex crimes against children as young as three with an online element. They included rape, grooming and sexual assault.
The NSPCC says the number shows a rise by more than a third (44 per cent) since 2015/16, which saw police record 3,903 offences.
In Lincolnshire officers reported 58 cyber-related child sex offences in 2016/17 and 112 offences for the previous 12 months.
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 are also telling the NSPCC’s 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.”
The NSPCC would like to see Government introduce an independent regulator, minimum standards and children offered safer social media accounts.
Mr Wanless added: “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.”
This is the second year police have been required to record any crime that involved the internet.
The latest figures show police are recording an average of 15 internet-related sex crimes against children a day.
For offences where age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim with 257 offences but there were nearly 100 offences committed against children aged ten and under, with the youngest victim aged just three-years-old.
The NSPCC is calling for an independent regulator to hold social media companies to account and fine them where they fail to protect children.
It also wants to see Government draw up minimum standards that internet companies must meet and for children to be ‘automatically offered safer social media accounts’, with default privacy settings, to protect them from harmful content.
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.