The NSPCC is calling on the Government to urgently fix a flaw in the law which means grooming children before meeting them is still not illegal.
The call comes as former Sunderland and England footballer Adam Johnson’s second appeal against his conviction and sentence is heard at the Court of Appeal this week.
He was convicted of sexual activity with a child and meeting a teenage girl after grooming her, and sentenced to six years in prison.
But the grooming itself was not a crime at the time.
This week marks the two-year anniversary of the Government creating an anti-grooming law to make it illegal to send a sexual message to a child.
But the law still has not been enacted.
Prior to meeting the teenager, the shamed footballer exchanged more than 800 messages with her.
They included WhatsApp messages saying he wanted ‘more than a kiss’ and to take her jeans off.
The children's charity is calling on the Government to urgently fix this flaw in the law, to allow police to intervene at an earlier stage.
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “You would think it would be illegal for an adult to send sexually explicit messages to a child. But the frightening fact is that it is not.
“This kind of message would be an offence if they were sent in Scotland.
"But in England and Wales, police are still powerless to intervene because anti-sexting laws created two years ago have yet to be enacted.
“The Government’s delay in outlawing this kind of grooming is a disgrace.
"Justice Secretary Liz Truss must act with urgency to fix this flaw in the law, and stop abuse before it starts.”
The Serious Crime Act (2015) received Royal Assent on 1 March 2015.
Section 67 makes it an offence in England and Wales for anyone over 18 to communicate with a child under 16 for sexual gratification.
It has yet to be enacted, which means although it is on the statute books, police are unable to use it to arrest adults sending sexual messages to children.