Action call over online child sex crime figures

Nearly 20% of recorded sex crimes against children in the Northumbria Police area are committed online, new figures show.

Child protection campaigners want action over rising online sex crimes
Child protection campaigners want action over rising online sex crimes

The NSPCC has warned that tech companies are enabling the crimes by failing to design their sites with children's safety in mind.

A freedom of information request by the charity revealed that 543 grooming and online offences involving a victim under-18 were recorded by Northumbria Police in 2019-20.

This was a 20% increase from the previous year, and meant 17% of all sex crimes recorded against children by the force were online.

In 2018-19, 14% of child sex crimes in Northumbria had an online element.

The recorded crime figures include sexual assault and activity, gross indecency with, and grooming of children, as well as crimes of abuse of children through prostitution and pornography.

The fugures show the number of online sex crimes against children nationally topped 10,000 in 2019-20 - the 10,058 recorded was a 17% rise on the previous year.

The Government says its Online Harms White Paper sets out plans for new legislation specifically aimed at keeping children safe online.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said: “Offenders are using the web to commit child sex offences in ever-growing numbers and young people are at even greater risk of grooming and abuse due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

“But these are crimes which have been enabled by tech companies that continue to fail to design their sites with children’s safety in mind.

“The Government have a pivotal opportunity to change this in the coming weeks in their response to the Online Harms White Paper.”

The Government said it had invested heavily in law enforcement, including giving £1.6m towards the NSPCC's helpline.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Tackling online child abuse is a priority and we are working at pace to develop legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

"This will introduce a duty of care on companies, who will need to put in place systems to deal with harmful content and take robust action, and will be overseen by an independent regulator."