The number of child sexual offences committed on the internet in the Northumbria Police area more than trebled last year, new figures reveal today.
Statistics from the NSPCC show there were 323 incidents in 2016-17 year, up from 98 the previous 12 months, a shocking rise of 229.5%.
The Internet has opened up new opportunities for abusers online and we are working closely with our partners to improve online safety education and raise awareness of how to stay safe online.
Last year 5,653 sex crimes committed nationally against children as young as three had an online element.
Northumbria Police Detective Chief Superintendent Lisa Orchard said: “We take any report of crime involving children very seriously and safeguarding any vulnerable child is paramount and we encourage anyone with any concerns to report them to the police.
“We have a specialist safeguarding department and a cyber-crime unit within Northumbria Police which are dedicated to protecting those who may be vulnerable to these sorts of crimes and preventing offenders being able to target them online.
“The Internet has opened up new opportunities for abusers online and we are working closely with our partners to improve online safety education and raise awareness of how to stay safe online.
“We have improved our response to sexual abuse online and we are safeguarding children at risk and proactively targeting offenders and bringing them to justice. We will continue to work closely with our partners but we ask everyone to help us by being alert to signs of sexual activity online and sharing any concerns however small they may seem.”
A total of 39 forces across England and Wales reported cyber-related sex crimes against under-18s that included rape, grooming, and sexual assault.
This number has risen by more than a third (44%) from 2015/16 when 39 forces across England and Wales who responded to the same Freedom of Information request by the NSPCC recorded 3,903 cyber-related sexual offences.
Durham Constabulary recorded 190 instances in 2016-17. Figures for the previous year are not available.
A spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling all forms of sexual offences, including those that are committed over the Internet. We work in partnership with a number of agencies to support victims and to hold those who commit these abhorrent crimes to account.”
This is the second year police have been required to record - ‘cyber flag’ - 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 (257) but there were nearly 100 offences committed against children aged ten and under, with the youngest victim aged just three-years-old.
The charity is calling on the next government to make child online safety a top priority and is demanding an independent regulator to hold social media companies to account and fine them where they fail to protect children; minimum standards that companies must meet to safeguard children, and children to be automatically offered safer social media accounts, with default privacy settings, to protect them from harmful content and offenders who seek to prey on them.
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.
CEO Peter Wanless said: “These figures confirm our fears that offenders are exploiting the Internet to target children for their own dark deeds.
“Children also tell our 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. 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.”