'Tsunami of child abuse' warning as online grooming crimes more than double in West Midlands

Internet grooming crimes in the region have more than doubled in the last four years, with a charity warning of a tsunami of child abuse on popular internet networks.

'Tsunami of child abuse' warning as online grooming crimes more than double in West Midlands

New figures show there were 270 offences of sexual communication with a child recorded by forces in 2021/22. West Midlands Police had 141 reports, Staffordshire 105 and Warwickshire 24. There was a total of 121 across all three forces in 2017/18.

The figures, excluding West Mercia data, were published today by the NSPCC and stated that 70 per cent of crimes were linked to Meta-owned apps WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

The data show grooming is increasingly becoming a cross-platform problem with police recording 70 different apps and games involved in the last 12 months alone. Multiple social media sites were often used in the same offence.

Calculated offenders are targeting children via well-established grooming pathways, with abusers contacting children on social media and gaming sites and coercing them to produce self-generated child abuse images.

Four in five or 82 per cent of cases last year were against girls, where the gender was known and 12 to 15-year-old girls made up 39 per cent of all victims where the age and gender was recorded.

Meta-owned platforms were used in 38 per cent of instances where the means of communication was known, while Snapchat was used by groomers in a third of offences where a site was recorded, more than any other platform.

A 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.”

The charity is appealing to the public to email MPs to support amendments to the legislation in an effort to improve its response to child sexual abuse. The NSPCC has set out a five-point action plan for the Online Safety Bill to systemically prevent avoidable child sexual abuse. While Digital Minister Chris Philp was due to address an NSPCC event in Parliament on Tuesday.

NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless 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.”

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