More than 1,300 cases of sexual communication with a child recorded in 6 months after change in the law

New figures show how we must use technology to protect young people

Before the new offence of Sexual Communication with a Child came into force in April 2017, following our Flaw in the Law campaign, police couldn't intervene until groomers met young people in person.

Since then more than 1,300 cases of sexual communication with a child have been recorded. Girls aged 12-15 were the most likely to be targeted. But some children were as young as 7

We're calling on the Government and social media companies to use existing technology to identify grooming behaviour and set up anti-grooming alerts for young people and moderators.


10 years on: child safety recommendations ignored

The Government has failed to implement more than half of the child safety online recommendations made in a landmark report 10 years ago. 

Professor Byron's original report, Safer Children in a Digital World, made 38 recommendations for making the online world safe for children.

But despite the Government's recent promise to make the UK the safest place in the world for children online, the Byron review shows just 16 of those recommendations have been fully acted on.

A key recommendation was to create a voluntary code for websites to help protect children online. But the Government is only now making this a part of their forthcoming Internet Strategy.

We believe it is not good enough to apply a decade-old recommendation to today's online world and that we now need a mandatory internet safety code to keep children safe.

Technology can protect young people 

Algorithms used for social media advertising can already flag child abuse images, hate speech and extremist behaviour. But they could also be used to identify grooming behaviour online. For example someone following young people with no mutual friends, or getting lots of rejected friend requests from children.

This could help:

    • alert children to grooming behaviour from adults they speak to online
    • alert moderators about suspected groomers and report them to the police.

Safer online regulations

We want the Government to improve their Internet Safety Strategy to include:

A proper code
At the moment the Government has no plans for the Social Network Code to tackle grooming. That needs to change.That code should require Safe Accounts for under 18s, with extra protections in place, such as grooming alerts.

A code, not a wish list
Government is planning for this code to be voluntary. Voluntary isn’t good enough. It needs to be mandatory, and overseen by an independent regulator.

Consquences for breaking the code
If social networks don’t follow the code, there must be fines. The code must force social networks to publish data on child endangerment reports, response times and action taken, so it’s clear when they’ve fallen short.

Call the NSPCC helpline

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our professional counsellors 24/7 for help, advice and support.

Call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Report a concern

"Government’s Internet Safety Strategy must require social networks to build in technology to keep their young users safe, rather than relying on police to step in once harm has already been done.

If Government makes a code for social networks that is entirely optional and includes no requirement for platforms to tackle grooming, this is a massive missed opportunity and children will continue to be put at risk."

Tony Stower, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online

Grooming

Find out more about the signs, symptoms and effects of grooming

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Children's stories

"He'd arranged to meet the girls out of school on the Monday and take them off with him."

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References

  1. * In 63% of cases where means of communication was recorded groomers used Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram to contact young people.

    *Of the 1,316 grooming offences of sexual communication with children, the split between different parts of the UK was as follows: 

    North: 444 (33.7%)
    South East (not including London): 208 (15.8%)
    Midlands: 197 (15%)
    South West: 179 (13.6%)
    East: 144 (10.9%)
    Wales: 136 (10.3%)