Recorded online sexual grooming crimes rise by a third

We're calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to prioritise online safety and bring in laws that deliver a change in protection against abuse

Young girl looking at a mobile phoneA Freedom of Information request to police forces in England and Wales shows there were at least 4,373 offences of sexual communication with a child recorded in the year to April 2019 compared with 3,217 in the previous year1.

The data revealed:

  • where age was provided, 1 in 5 victims were aged just 11 or younger
  • the number of recorded instances of the use of Instagram was more than double that of the previous year.

In the last 2 years, Facebook-owned apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp) and Snapchat were used in more than 70% of the instances where police recorded and provided the communication method.

The offence of sexual communication with a child came into force on April 3 2017 following our Flaw in the Law campaign.

Following the release of the Online Harms White Paper earlier this year, our Wild West Web campaign calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to keep the Government's promise and force tech firms to exercise a duty of care to children on their platforms.

Freya's* story

Freya was 12 when a stranger bombarded her Instagram account with sexual messages and videos. Her mum Pippa* told us:


Wild West Web: our campaign

We're calling on the Government to stand up for children and introduce tough regulation for social networks. We want:

  • an independent regulator who can put in place mandatory child safety rules for social networks
  • safe accounts for children
  • detailed reporting on how social networks are keeping children safe.

Peter WanlessPeter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said:
"It's now clearer than ever that Government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms.

"Despite the huge amount of pressure that social networks have come under to put basic protections in place, children are being groomed and abused on their platforms every single day. These figures are yet more evidence that social networks simply won't act unless they are forced to by law. The Government needs to stand firm and bring in regulation without delay."


Names have been changed to protect identities. Any photographs are posed by models.


  1. 1. All 43 police forces in England and Wales were asked for the number of recorded offences under s.15A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (Home Office recording code 71/17) recorded between October 1, 2018, and April 2, 2019.

    The NSPCC also asked for information about the age and gender of the victims, and for the methods of communication used in connection with recorded offences.

    Data had previously been obtained for April 2017 to September 30, 2018.

    Crimes sometimes go unreported or undetected, and therefore police-recorded offences will not fully reflect the scale of the issue.

    3 (Dyfed Powys, Met and City of London) out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales only provided 6 months of data in the first year. 3 (Northamptonshire, Greater Manchester and Sussex) only provided 6 months of data, and the City of London did not provide any, in the second year.