Charity is urging that the current online safety bill is prioritised
Figures obtained by the NSPCC reveal online grooming crimes recorded by Police Scotland reached almost 3,000 in five years, with offences against under 13s rising by more than 60%.
Analysis of Freedom of Information data from Police Scotland shows that in 2021/22 there were 636 offences of Communicating Indecently with a Child, compared with 429 in 2017/18 – a 48% rise. For victims under the age of 13, there was a steeper rise with 369 in 2021/22 and 226 in 2017/18.
Data from 41 UK police forces across the UK show an 84% rise in these crimes since 2017/18, with a total of more than 27,000 offences in the past five years.
The charity says the sheer scale of offending shows the vital importance of ensuring that the Online Safety Bill effectively tackles child sexual abuse and has practical suggestions for how this is best done.
This should include giving the regulator, Ofcom, 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.
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.”
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.”
The charity is asking the public to email their MP to support amendments to the legislation that aim to improve its response to child sexual abuse.