Online child grooming offences pass 10,000

We're calling on Boris Johnson to publicly commit to having Online Harms Bill on statute book within 18 months

More than 10,000 online grooming crimes have been recorded by police under a new law that made it illegal for adults to send sexual messages to children.

The NSPCC is calling on the Prime Minister to deliver an Online Harms Bill, that sets out a Duty of Care on tech firms to make their sites safer for children, within 18 months.
The charity wants his Government to publish a roadmap that sets out the timescales for a world-leading Bill to go through Parliament as a matter of urgency.

Figures obtained via freedom of information requests show that police in England and Wales have recorded 10,119 offences of sexual communication with a child in the two and a half years since the law came into force, following our Flaw in the Law campaign.

The data1 revealed:

      • the number of offences is accelerating, with 23% taking place in the six months up to October last year.
      • Facebook-owned apps (Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp) were used in 55% of cases, from April 2017 to October 2019, where police recorded information about how a child was groomed2.
      • there were over 3,200 instances of Facebook-owned apps being used, of which half involved Instagram. Snapchat was used over 1,060 times.

We are warning there could be a sharper increase this year due to the unique threats caused by coronavirus and years of industry failure to design basic child protection into platforms.

In February, then Digital Minister Matt Warman promised to publish an Online Harms Bill following proposals set out in a White Paper. These proposals set out independent regulation of social networks with potential criminal sanctions if tech directors fail to keep children safe on their platforms. 

However, frustration is growing at delays to the legislation not now expected until the end of the year and concerns we might not see a regulator until 2023.


Emily's* story

Emily was 13 when she exchanged messages and photos with a man she believed to be 15 on Facebook and Snapchat. The man turned out to be 24 and sexually abused her. Emily’s mum Wendy* told us:

"It’s important for social media to be regulated and for Facebook and Instagram to take more responsibility to keep the people who use their platform safe. All other businesses have a Duty of Care to keep children safe, so why not them?"

Wild West Web: our campaign

We are now calling on the Prime Minister to deliver an Online Harms Bill, that sets out a Duty of Care on tech firms to make their sites safer for children, within 18 months. The Online Harms Bill should:

    • Enforce a Duty of Care on tech companies to identify and mitigate reasonably foreseeable risks on their platforms, including at the design stage, to proactively protect users from harm
    • Create a regulator that can hand out GDPR equivalent fines – up to of 4% of global turnover - and hold named directors criminally accountable for the most serious breaches of their Duty of Care
    • Give the regulator robust powers to investigate companies and request information
    • Create a culture of transparency by legally compelling tech firms to disclose any breaches of the Duty of Care and major design changes to their platforms



Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said:

“Child abuse is an inconvenient truth for tech bosses who have failed to make their sites safe and enabled offenders to use them as a playground in which to groom our kids.

“Last week the Prime Minister signalled to me his determination to stand up to Silicon Valley and make the UK the world leader in online safety. He can do this by committing to an Online Harms Bill that puts a legal Duty of Care on big tech to proactively identify and manage safety risks.

“Now is the time to get regulation done and create a watchdog with the teeth to hold tech directors criminally accountable if their platforms allow children to come to serious but avoidable harm.”

We're working hard to ensure we're still here for children. Will you help us?

*DISCLAiMER

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


References

  1. 1. 2,277 offences were recorded between April 2019 and October 2019, the last six months of available data. This amounts to 23% of all recorded offences but excludes data from South Wales Police and Greater Manchester Police who did not provide figures for this period.

  2. 2. There were 5,784 records of the means of communication used. Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp were used in 3,203 instances, 55% of the total where means of communication is known.