Online grooming crimes have risen by more than 80% in four years

We may see even higher levels of online child sexual abuse, as record levels were reached during the pandemic, and have not subsided, meaning there may be a long-term increase in risk. 


Exclusive figures we’ve obtained show that online grooming crimes recorded by the police continue to climb and have jumped by more than 80% in four years. Data from 41 UK police forces shows an 84% rise since 2017/181, taking the total to more than 27,000 offences since 20172

In 2021/22, there were 6,156 Sexual Communication with a Child offences3, an increase on the previous year and almost 120 offences per week on average. 

Our research has also revealed:

  • four in five (82%) of grooming cases last year, where the gender was known, were against girls, with 12 to 15 year old girls making up 39% of all victims, where the age and gender was recorded4
  • offenders target children through well-established grooming pathways, such as contacting children on social media and gaming sites and coercing them to produce self-generated child abuse images
  • Meta-owned platforms were used in 38% of offences where the means of communication was known. However, Snapchat was used by groomers more than any other platform, in a third of offences where a site was recorded (33%)5
  • grooming is increasingly becoming a cross-platform problem, with police recording 70 different apps and games involved in grooming crimes in the last 12 months alone. Multiple social media sites were often used in the same offence.


One 15-year-old girl who was groomed on multiple sites told Childline: 

“I’ve been chatting with this guy online who’s like twice my age. This all started on Instagram but lately all our chats have been on WhatsApp. 

He seemed really nice to begin with, but then he started making me do these things to ‘prove my trust’ to him, like doing video chats with my chest exposed. Every time I did these things for him, he would ask for more and I felt like it was too late to back out. 

This whole thing has been slowly destroying me and I’ve been having thoughts of hurting myself.”

The scale of offences shows just how vital it is for the Online Safety Bill to effectively tackle child sexual abuse, but the Bill needs to go further to protect children online. 

Our five-point action plan aims for the Online Safety Bill aims to strengthen the Bill and ensure it can systematically prevent avoidable child sexual abuse. 

  1. Give the regulator the powers to proactively tackle abuse in private messaging. Two thirds of child abuse takes place in private messaging, so Ofcom must be given power to proactively require firms to use technology to detect and disrupt grooming and the sharing of child abuse images.
  2. Make platforms work together to tackle grooming pathways. Grooming doesn’t just happen on one site, offenders use well-known grooming pathways to target children and companies should have a clear legal duty to address cross platform harm and cooperate with each other to disrupt grooming.
  3. Stop offenders from using social networks to organise abuse. Offenders legally use social media to form networks, advertise a sexual interest in children and signpost to illegal child abuse content on third party sites. The Online Safety Bill must combat the ways offenders facilitate abuse on social media. 
  4. Adopt a Violence Against Women and Girls Code of Practice. The Government should commit to a statutory code of practice on violence against women and girls to ensure the Online Safety Bill has a systemic and enforceable focus on online sexual violence. 
  5. A children’s watchdog that represents children's needs. The Online Safety Bill can give children a higher standard of protection by creating a statutory watchdog to promote children’s interests, funded by a levy on the tech industry. This user advocacy body would ensure children protection is front and centre of regulation, prevent harm by acting as an early warning system to flag emerging risks and call for swift action. 

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: 


“Online grooming is taking place at unprecedented levels and only concerted action will turn the tide on this tsunami of preventable abuse. 

The crucial Online Safety Bill is the opportunity to deliver the legislative change we urgently need to address head on these preventable crimes against children 

We strongly welcome the Government’s ambition to deliver world-leading legislation. But as it seems increasingly clear that the pandemic has resulted in a long-term increase in the abuse threat, the current proposals must go further now to tackle online sexual violence and prevent avoidable abuse.”


  1. 1. Comparisons over time are based on data from the 41 out of 45 UK police forces who have provided data for every year from 2017/18 to 2021/22. There was an 84% increase in offences over the four years. There was an annual increase of 2.5% from the first full year of covid showing that offences are remaining consistently high.

  2. 2. The total number of offences recorded by the 45 UK police forces from data provided since 2017/18 was 27,490.

  3. 3. Freedom of Information Data from 40 UK police forces (and obtained by request from PSNI) shows there were 6,156 offences of Sexual Communication with a Child and Communicating Indecently with a Child (Scotland) recorded in 2021/22, which is a 2.5% increase on the previous year.   

  4. 4. The gender of victims was known in 4,183 instances last year. 3,444 were girls which is 82%. Age and gender were known in 3,785 offences. 1,472 victims were girls aged 12-15 (39%).

  5. 5. The means of communication was known on 2,244 instances last year. Facebook was used in 206, Instagram 440 and WhatsApp 207 taking Meta platforms’ total to 853 which is 38%. Snapchat was used 739 times which is 33%.