NSPCC warn of ‘tsunami’ of online grooming crimes reported to Police Scotland

Reports of online grooming targeting children under 13 have climbed by more than 60% in Scotland, a charity has warned.

Figures obtained by the NSPCC found that there were 636 offences of communicating indecently with a child reported north of the border in 2021/22, a 48% rise from the 429 logged in 2017/18.

For victims under the age of 13, analysis of the Freedom of Information data from Police Scotland revealed, there was a steeper rise with 369 in 2021/22 and compared to 226 in 2017/18.

This is a rise of 63%.

Across the UK, the charity said data from 41 police forces revealed an 84% rise in grooming since 2017/18, with a total of more than 27,000 offences in the past five years.

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.”

One 15-year-old girl who was groomed online told Childline she had been chatting with a man online twice her age, with conversations starting on Instagram before moving onto 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,” she said.

“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 NSPCC has said the scale of offended showed the importance of ensuring the Online Safety Bill, which is going through Westminster at the moment, effectively tackles child sex abuse.

The charity said it should include giving Ofcom, the regulator, the powers to proactively tackle abuse in private messaging, making platforms work together to stop grooming pathways and stopping offenders from using social networks to organise abuse.

Sir Peter said: “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.”

A Home Office spokesman said the department was on Wednesday announcing “further amendments to our Online Safety Bill to ensure that companies take action to keep children safe from child sexual abuse and exploitation”.

“The sexual abuse and exploitation of children online is an abhorrent crime, and we are uncovering more of this offending than ever before,” the spokesman said.

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