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Thursday, 01 June 2017

New figures show 44% rise in cyber-related sex crimes against children, NSPCC

Written by Alison Kershaw

Thousands of cases of child sexual abuse linked to the internet were recorded by police last year, figures show.

Rape, sexual assault and grooming were among the offences logged which had a "cyber flag", meaning the crime had an online element, with the youngest victim aged three.

The NSPCC, which obtained the data through Freedom of Information requests, said it was urging the next government to introduce strict internet safety measures to protect children.

In total, there were 5,653 child sex crimes recorded in 2016/17 involving the internet, equivalent to around 15 each day.

This was based on information from 39 police forces in England and Wales who gave figures on cyber-related sex crimes against under 18-year-olds.

The number has risen by 44% compared to 2015/16, the NSPCC said.

For the past two years, police have been required by law to add a "cyber flag" to any child sexual offences that involved the internet in some form. This could include activity such as online grooming, using the internet to meet up with a child, or an individual pretending to be someone online that they were not.

The data showed that among forces that recorded ages, 13 was the most common age of a victim. There were almost 100 crimes committed against youngsters aged 10 and under, and the youngest victim was aged three.

In 2015/16 Childine, which is run by the NSPCC, held more than 3,700 counselling sessions with youngsters about online sexual abuse, the charity revealed.

It said it was calling for an independent regulator to be established to hold social media companies to account and to issue fines where they failed to protect children.

The charity also wants to see the government draw up minimum standards that internet firms must meet to safeguard children, and for children to be automatically offered safer social media accounts that have default privacy settings to protect them from harmful content and potential online predators.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: "These figures confirm our fears that offenders are exploiting the internet to target children for their own dark deeds.

"Children also tell our Childline service that they are being targeted online by some adults who pose as children and try to meet them, or persuade them to perform sexual acts on webcams, before blackmailing them.

"This terrifies them and can leave some feeling worthless, depressed, and suicidal.

"We cannot idly sit by knowing that more and more innocent young people are being harmed online.

"Today's worrying data leaves the next government with no choice but to urgently address this issue.

"We are calling on them to force internet companies and social media sites to adhere to rules that keep their young users safe."

Last month, long-awaited new powers to tackle paedophiles who target children through social media or mobile phones came into effect.

Groomers convicted of sexual communication with a child face up to two years in prison and automatic inclusion on the sex offenders' register.

The offence aims to cover a gap in existing legislation and allow police and prosecutors to intervene earlier and stamp out grooming before sexual activity can take place.

Background items in abuse images key to cracking child sex cases - Europol

Child abuse investigators are urging the public to turn detective and identify household items in the background of explicit images which could prove vital clues.

Europol has published 20 chilling pictures cropped from sex abuse images and zoomed in on everyday items including a shampoo bottle, children's clothing and even a shower.

The European Union's police force took the unusual step in a last-ditch bid to crack the cases for which it said "every other investigative avenue" had been exhausted.

So little is known about the images that investigators are unclear where in the world they originated but Europol said two victims were recently identified after food packaging and waste containers in the background were recognised.

The agency said: "We are convinced that more eyes will lead to more leads and will ultimately help to save these children."

Rob Wainwright, executive director of Europol, said: "The Victim Identification Task Force held at Europol has repeatedly shown the significant possibilities of rescuing victims of child abuse through experts working together analysing abuse images.

"In many of these cases the key breakthrough has been established through a small piece of information such as identification of objects in the background of the image that provide a vital clue to investigators.

"This innovative project seeks to use the global reach of the internet to allow the public to contribute to this investigation process and to play a real part in the global prevention of child abuse. Remember, your help can provide the one piece of information that leads to the rescue of a child."

The public are urged to visit www.europol.europa.eu/stopchildabuse where they can submit information anonymously.

Europol are hoping to trace the origin of the objects and will then pass the information to local police forces.

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