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More than 300 child abuse crimes in region for every month safety bill delayed, charity warns

More than 300 online sex crimes will take place against children in the West Midlands and Shropshire every month the Online Safety Bill is delayed, the NSPCC has warned.

The NSPCC is issuing a stark warning to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss about the delay of the Online Safety Bill

The charity’s analysis of new Home Office crime data found a ten-fold increase in online child sexual abuse offences recorded by police in England and Wales over the last decade.

The data shows 42,503 Obscene Publication (Child Abuse Image) and Sexual Grooming crimes were logged in the year to March– up from 3,706 just ten years ago.

In 2021/22, police forces in the West Midlands recorded 3,698 of these offences – the equivalent of 308 per month.

The figures cover the West Midlands, West Mercia, Staffordshire and Warwickshire police forces.

The NSPCC said the massive growth in crimes and the sheer scale of abuse taking place against children should serve as a wake-up call for the next Prime Minister to make the Online Safety Bill a national priority.

They said it underlines the urgent need for Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to commit to passing the legislation in full and without delay.

The charity warned the disturbing reality of delay is more children being groomed on their smartphones and tablets, being contacted by offenders in the summer holidays, and coerced into acts of online sexual abuse in their bedrooms.

The landmark Online Safety Bill was due to pass through the House of Commons last week but was postponed until at least the autumn when a new Prime Minister will be in place.

The NSPCC first secured the commitment to regulate social media four years ago in a bid to combat the inaction of Silicon Valley to abuse taking place against children on their platforms.

The legislation would put a duty of care on companies for their users and mean they would have to put measures in place to prevent and disrupt child abuse on their sites and protect children from harm.

The charity is concerned the delay could result in the Bill being watered down despite years of failed self-regulation by tech firms putting children at increased risk

Frida, who is a survivor of online abuse, said: “The abuse that I experienced started ten years ago when I was 13. It is sickening that since then the number of young people being abused online has grown dramatically.

“Being groomed has had a horrific impact on my life and I want no other young person to endure that. I know this delay to the Online Safety Bill will see more young people like me experience harm when it could have been prevented, and that is devastating.”

The NSPCC has written to both Conservative leadership candidates saying, ‘delay or watering down of the Bill will come at considerable cost to children and families. It would represent the reversal of an important manifesto commitment that commands strong levels of public support’.

YouGov research for the NSPCC found more than four fifths of UK adults think the Online Safety Bill should deliver strong and comprehensive measures to protect children from online child sexual abuse.

NSPCC Chief Executive Sir Peter Wanless said: “With every second the clock ticks by on the Online Safety Bill an ever-growing number of children and families face the unimaginable trauma of preventable child abuse.

“The need for legislation to protect children is clear, commands overwhelming support from MPs and the public and builds on the UK’s global leadership position in tackling harm online. Robust regulation can be delivered while protecting freedom of speech and privacy.

“There can be no more important mission for Government than to keep children safe from abuse and the next Prime Minister must keep the promise made to families in the election manifesto and deliver the Online Safety Bill as a national priority.”

Susie Hargreaves OBE, chief executive officer at the internet watch foundation, said: “These alarming figures represent thousands of images of real children, who have been abused and raped and their lives irrevocably altered.

“We need to protect children by blocking and removing as much of this imagery from the internet as possible. However, IWF data also shows that 15 times more child sexual abuse material was found online by our analysts in 2021 than 10 years previously.

“The predominant type of imagery is ‘self-generated’, where children are groomed or extorted into abusing themselves on camera. Of the 250,000 web addresses actioned by the IWF last year, more than 7 in 10 reports included this type of content. These images are then distributed widely over a number of platforms.

“Given that the internet provides easy access into people’s homes, where someone can record children who are often alone in their bedrooms via a phone or computer camera, it is urgent that the Online Safety Bill remains a priority on the government’s agenda.”