82% rise in online grooming crimes against children in the last 5 years

We are urging MPs and tech companies to back the Online Safety Bill following new research on the scale of online grooming.

  • Almost 34,000 online grooming crimes against children were recorded by UK police since we first called for social media regulation.
  • 1 in 4 online grooming crimes in the last 5 years were against primary school children.
  • 73% of crimes involved Snapchat and Meta, we are urging tech companies to accept regulation and prioritise children’s safety.

UK police recorded almost 34,000 online grooming crimes against children as we waited for the Online Safety Bill. 

MPs and Lords are going to make the final decisions on the Online Safety Bill next month. We are highlighting these figures to show the true scale of child sexual abuse on social media. 

Freedom of Information data

We sent Freedom of Information requests and asked for data on recorded offences of Sexual Communication with a Child offences, from all UK police forces since the offence was introduced in 2017. 

The data shows:

  • Almost 34,000 online grooming crimes against children were recorded in the last 6 years
  • 6,350 Sexual Communication with a Child offences were recorded last year (2022/23). This is an 82% increase since 2017/18 when this offence came into force.
  • More than 5,500 offences were against primary school children, with under-12s being affected by a quarter of cases
  • Where the gender was known, 83% of online grooming offences were against girls. 

Where the means of communication was known: 

  • 150 different apps, games and websites were used to groom children online.
  • 26% of online grooming offences against children took place on Snapchat.
  • 47% of online grooming offences took place on Meta-owned products such as Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.

The number of offences and children affected by online sexual abuse is likely to be a lot higher than what's currently known to the police. It's vital that politicians on all sides support the Online Safety Bill in its final stages, and pass this Bill that will help protect children.

Sophia* was 15 she was groomed on social media by a man pretending to be another child. Sophia, now 19, said:

“He started getting angry if I didn’t reply quick enough or when I wasn’t saying exactly what he wanted to hear. It felt strange, how he was being, so I tried breaking off the conversation with him on Yubo. He just found me on Instagram and moved to messaging me directly there.

“He had started asking for selfies of me, then asking me to take my clothes off and send photos. When he threatened me and started being angry, I was petrified. He used the images to control me. I wasn’t even allowed to use the toilet without his permission.

"I was afraid to tell anyone because of the photos and his threats. He threatened to share the images of me with friends and family he’d found through my social media if I stopped replying.”

The Online Safety Bill

In 2018, the government promised online regulation that will protect children from online sexual abuse. This was following our campaign to help end child abuse online, and we have been campaigning for strong legislation ever since.

We've worked with the government, members of parliament, other civil society groups and those who have experienced online sexual abuse, to ensure the Bill effectively tackles the way social media and gaming sites contribute to child sexual abuse.

The Online Safety Bill will mean tech companies have a legal duty of care for children and young people who use their products. They must assess their products for the risk of child abuse and put means in place to protect children.

It will give Ofcom powers to address significant abuse taking place in private messaging and will require tech companies to put safeguards in place to identify and disrupt abuse in end-to-end encrypted environments.

These measures are vital to effectively protect children from online sexual abuse, and our recent YouGov poll shows more than 73% of voters support this legislation.

Online Safety Bill achievements

As well as winning the commitment from the government to legislate child protections online, we have helped shape significant gains for children in the Online Safety Bill as it passes through parliament, including:

  • Senior tech bosses will be held criminally liable for significant failures that put children at risk of sexual abuse and other harm.
  • Ofcom will produce guidance on tackling Violence Against Women and Girls for companies to follow.
  • Companies will have to crack down on ‘breadcrumbing’ and ‘tribute pages’, allow abusers to identify and form networks with eachother to facilitate child sexual abuse.
    • Breadcrumbing is where abusers use phrases, keywords, or other hints that signpost to illegal content.
    • Tribute pages are fake social media accounts made by abusers, of children who have experienced sexual abuse.
  • Websites and companies will have to consider how grooming pathways travel across various social media apps and games, and work together to prevent abuse spreading across different platforms.

We are still waiting for assurance that the Online Safety Bill will effectively regulate AI and immersive technology, and demand an online child safety advocacy body specifically to speak with and for children as part of the regulation. This will help spot emerging risks and fight for the interests and safety of children before abuse occurs.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive said:


“Today’s research highlights the sheer scale of child abuse happening on social media and the human cost of fundamentally unsafe products.

“The number of offences must serve as a reminder of why the Online Safety Bill is so important and why the ground-breaking protections it will give children are desperately needed.

“We’re pleased the government has listened and strengthened the legislation so companies must tackle how their sites contribute to child sexual abuse in a tough but proportionate way, including in private messaging.

“It’s now up to tech firms, including those highlighted by these stark figures today, to make sure their current sites and future services do not put children at unacceptable risk of abuse.”


• We first called for online safety regulation in April 2017. We sent Freedom of Information requests and asked for data on recorded offences of Sexual Communication with a Child offences (Communicating Indecently with a Child in Scotland) from all UK police forces since the offence was introduced in 2017 (see timeline below for further details).

• Over the six-year period data from the 42 police forces in England, Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland, excluding British Transport Police, shows there were 33,959 offences recorded.

• In 2022/23 6,350 offences were recorded (42 forces), up 82% from the 3,492 recorded by the same 42 forces in 2017/18.

• Police forces were asked for a gender breakdown. They gave a gender breakdown in 21,890 instances. This means at least 21,000 victims were identified. Where a victim’s gender was known, 17,844 were female and 3,764 were male, meaning girls made up 83% of known victim gender.

• Police forces were asked for the social media platforms used to commit offences (the means of communication). The means of communication was provided in 13,975 instances. Snapchat was used in 3,692 instances (26%), Facebook/Facebook Messenger in 2,132 (15%), Instagram in 3,593 (26%) and WhatsApp in 890 (6%).

• A recorded offence could involve more than one victim and multiple means of communication.

• In total 150 different social media sites, apps, games, dating sites and websites were flagged by police as involved in Sexual Communication with a Child offences.

• Some police forces used a key word search to identify the means of communication.

Online Safety Bill Timeline:

2014 - We launched a campaign calling for a new offence to make online grooming a crime, by making it illegal for an adult to send a child a sexual message. 50,000 people signed our petition

2015 - The government included the offence in the Sexual Offences Act 2015, but it took two more years of sustained campaigning before they finally brought the offence into force so police could take action and arrest offenders


  • April - Sexual Communication with a Child became an offence. We first called on the government to bring in statutory regulation of social networks
  • December - We call for tech companies to have a legal duty of care to keep children safe



  • February - Taming the Wild West Web was published outlining a plan for regulation
  • April - The government publishes the Online Harms White Paper


  • January - Online Harms paving bill, prepared by the Carnegie Trust and introduced by Lord McNally, was selected for its first reading in the Lords
  • February - Government publish initial consultation to the Online Harms White Paper, announcing Ofcom as the likely watchdog
  • September - NSPCC sets out six tests for the Online Harms Bill in its Regulatory Framework
  • December - Government published its Online Harms White Paper consultation response


  • March - NSPCC analysis of the consultation response found significant improvement is needed in a third of areas of proposed legislation if the Online Safety Bill is to extensively protect children from avoidable harm and abuse
  • May - Government publishes draft Online Safety Bill
  • September - Parliamentary scrutiny begins, and the NSPCC publish Duty to Protect - An assessment of the draft Online Safety Bill against the NSPCC’s six tests for protecting children
  • October - Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen gives evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill
  • December - The joint committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill call for a number of changes to the legislation to better prevent child abuse


  • January - DCMS Committee back NSPCC’s call for the Online Safety Bill to put a legal duty on tech firms to disrupt the way offenders game social media design features to organise around material that facilitates abuse. The Petitions Committee also called for the Online Safety Bill to be strengthened.
  • March - NSPCC urge Government to listen to the overwhelming consensus of Parliamentarians, civil society and the UK public to close significant gaps in the way Online Safety Bill responds to grooming. The Government publishes the Online Safety Bill
  • April - Online Safety Bill has its Second Reading and NSPCC publish its Time to Act report which sets out where the Bill can be improved to become a world-leading response to the online child abuse threat
  • May - Online Safety Bill Committee Stage begins
  • July - Online Safety Bill Report Stage debates
  • Summer - Online Safety Bill delayed by two changes to Prime Minister
  • September Inquest into the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell finds social media contributed to her death
  • December  Online Safety Bill returns to Parliament. Bereaved Families for Online Safety formed to campaign for strong protections for children and families through the Online Safety Bill


  • January - Conservative MP rebellion backs NSPCC amendment that forces Government to commit to holding senior tech managers liable for harm to children. Online Safety Bill begins its journey through the House of Lords
  • Spring - Government amendments strengthen protections for children following campaigning by civil society, including NSPCC and Bereaved Families for Online Safety
  • September - Online Safety Bill due its Third Reading in the House of Lords and to return to Parliament for final passage