Instagram most recorded platform used in child grooming crimes during lockdown

We're calling for tougher legislation after 1,220 online grooming offences against children recorded in just 3 months of lockdown.

Freedom of Information responses from 38 police forces in England and Wales show that 1,220 offences of sexual communication with a child were recorded in the first 3 months of lockdown. 1

The figures show Instagram increasingly being used in online grooming offences. The data from our research shows:

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  • Instagram was used in 37% of cases where the platform was recorded, compared with 29% over the previous three years.
  • Facebook-owned apps (Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp) were used in 51% of cases where the type of communication was recorded.
  • Snapchat was used in 20% of cases for which data was available.
  • Offences have also increased annually in the 3 years before lockdown. In total there were 12,925 offences recorded by police in England and Wales from April 2017 to March 2020, with experts saying poorly designed social media sites are putting children at risk.

 


We're calling on the PM to bring forward online harms legislation

The Prime Minister is being urged to ensure companies and named managers can be held criminally responsible for failing to protect children from avoidable harm and abuse.

With ongoing Coronavirus restrictions across the UK, we believe that the risk of online abuse will continue to rise, and many more offences may come to light when children report them at school. 

We want the upcoming Online Harms Bill to compel firms to consider child protections when they design their sites to prevent harm rather than react once the damage is done.

"I am 12 and I don’t have social media but I wanted to get online and chat to people since my friends had done it and told me it would be fun. It started off fine with the occasional ‘hi’ and then men started sending d*** pics and saying really personal things."
Girl who contacted Childline during the pandemic.

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NSPCC Chief Executive, Peter Wanless said:

“Families have long paid the price for big tech’s failure to protect children from abuse, but the Prime Minister has the chance to turn the tide and put responsibility on firms to clean up the mess they created."

“As the pandemic intensifies the threat children face online, bold and ambitious action is needed in the form of a world-leading Online Harms Bill."

“This means legislation that is tough on online crimes against children and regulation that holds tech companies and bosses financially and criminally responsible if they continue to turn a blind eye to entirely avoidable harm.”

The Online Harms Bill could protect children online

We’ve helped propose a new law - the Online Harms Bill - to make tech companies accountable for the abuse happening on their platforms. To keep children and young people safe online, we need:

New rules to make tech companies put safety first.

We need an independent regulator to put rules that keep children safe in place for social platforms, with the power to investigate and fine them if they don't.

Punishments for failing to protect young users.

We need tech companies are made responsible for young people’s safety – with steep fines of up to €20 million and bans for boardroom directors for failing to do so.

Safer social platforms that tackle online abuse.

We need social media companies to make platforms safer by design – with safer accounts for young users, making reporting abuse easier and dealing with reports faster.

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References

  1. 1. The NSPCC asked all police forces in England and Wales the number of recorded offences of Sexual Communication with a Child between April 1st and June 30th this year, and the platform used to commit these crimes. From the 38 forces that shared data there were 1,220 offences.

  2. 2. The platform was known in 641 instances and in these Instagram was used 236 times (37%). Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp combined were used 324 times (51%).

  3. 3. The NSPCC has also collected data for Sexual Communication with a Child offences between April 2017 and March 2020. There was a total of 12,925 offences in the three years prior to the lockdown period. During this time period Instagram was used in 29% of instances where the means of communication was known. By comparison, Instagram was used in 37% of instances where the means of communication was known in Q1 of 2020/21.

    There has been a year-on-year increase in offences. 2017/18 – 3,217. 2018/19 – 4,625. 2019/20 – 5,083 (42 forces).