Girls are victims of most online grooming crimes in Northamptonshire
NSPCC calling for more to be done to ensure girls are properly protected from online sexual abuse
More must be done to protect girls online, the NSPCC has said, as new figures suggest they are the victim of most online grooming crimes in Northamptonshire.
The charity, which obtained the information from 43 police forces through a Freedom of Information request, is calling on new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to strengthen proposals in the draft Online Safety Bill to ensure girls are properly protected from online sexual abuse nationally.
The data shows Northamptonshire Police recorded 60 offences in which an adult engaged in sexual communication with a child under 16 between July 2020 and March.
Of the victims involved, 53 were female, and seven male.
The offence of sexual communication with a child, which was introduced in 2017 in England and Wales, refers to crimes committed online as well as in-person or via text message.
However, the NSPCC estimates more than 95% of such offences are committed via the internet.
Across England and Wales, there were 12,944 recorded offences where the gender was known between April 2017 and March 2021, with 10,722 (83%) of those recording the victim as female.
The NSPCC is calling on the Government to act to ensure it lives up to its previously stated ambition of making the UK the safest place in the world for a child to be online.
It said the Online Safety Bill, currently being examined by MPs and peers, must be strengthened to stop grooming and abuse spreading between apps, disrupt abuse at the earliest possible stage and hold senior managers to account.
Anna Edmundson, head of policy, said: “Any child can be a victim of online sexual abuse but the sheer number of girls being targeted is both alarming and a reminder of the failure of platforms to effectively protect their young users.
“One of the primary functions of the Online Safety Bill is to keep all children – including girls – safe when they go online.
“Now, the new Culture Secretary has the opportunity to fix the substantive weaknesses in the legislation so it does just that.”
The Government said social media companies needed to clamp down on child abuse content and prevent young people from being groomed.
A spokesman said: “Our new laws will be the most comprehensive in the world in protecting children online.
“Failing firms will face hefty fines or have their sites blocked, and we will have the power to make senior managers criminally liable for failing to protect children.”
A Northamptonshire Police spokeswoman, said: “The internet can be a great place for young people to learn and to chat with their peers however sadly, there are people out there who will look to use it as an avenue to abuse children.
“We have a team of detectives here at Northamptonshire Police whose job it is to investigate online grooming and we will always take robust action against anyone who makes inappropriate contact with a child online.
“We would also advocate an open conversation between children and their parents/guardians so children are aware of what signs to look out for online and where and how to report inappropriate behaviour safely without thinking they may get into trouble.”
Report non-emergency crime by calling 101 or visiting www.northants.police.uk/RO. In an emergency, always call 999.