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Sexual grooming crimes more than double in the West Midlands

By Megan Archer | Birmingham | Crime | Published:

The amount of sexual grooming crimes recorded by West Midlands Police has more than doubled in the last year, new figures show.

Social media apps were heavily used in instances of grooming

There were 62 offences recorded by the force from April 2018 to April 2019 compared with 25 during the previous year.

Meanwhile the number of offences recorded by Staffordshire Police went down from 61 to 54 over the same periods.

Since 2017 apps including Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat were used in 83 per cent of the instances where West Midlands Police officers recorded and provided the communication method used. Instagram was used in a third of incidents listed by the force.

These apps were also used in 67 per cent of incidents recorded by Staffordshire Police – but Instagram was only used 16 per cent.

The NSPCC has published the figures as part of efforts to put pressure on the Government to introduce tougher regulations after it claimed that nationally record numbers of children were being targeted on high profile social media networks.

It wants wants to see sanctions for technology firms that fail to protect young users, including steep fines for companies, boardroom bans for directors and a new criminal offence for web platforms that commit gross breaches of the duty of care.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “It’s now clearer than ever that Government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms.

“Despite the huge amount of pressure that social networks have come under to put basic protections in place, children are being groomed and abused on their platforms every single day.

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"These figures are yet more evidence that social networks simply won’t act unless they are forced to by law. The Government needs to stand firm and bring in regulation without delay.”

The data obtained from 43 police forces in England and Wales also revealed that, where age was provided, one in five victims were aged just 11 or younger.

There are plans for a draft Online Harms Bill in the new year following the the charity's Wild West Web campaign.

In England and Wales a total of 4,373 offences were recorded in the year to April 2019 compared with 3,217 in the previous year. The offence came into force two years ago following a NSPCC campaign.

The charity is calling on social media sites to take proactive action to identify and prevent grooming on their sites by; using artificial intelligence to detect suspicious behaviour, sharing data with other platforms to better understand the methods offenders use, switching off friend suggestion algorithms for children and young people, to reduce the risk of attracting offenders, and design young people’s accounts with the highest privacy settings.

West Midlands Police has been contacted for comment.

Megan Archer

By Megan Archer
Chief Reporter - @MeganA_Star

Chief Reporter with the Express & Star. Give me a call on 01902 319363 or email megan.archer@expressandstar.co.uk.

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