18:07 GMT27 February 2020
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    Overall in the last two years, Facebook-owned apps – including Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp - and Snapchat were used in over 70 percent of instances where police recorded the communication method. Instagram accounted for over a quarter of cases.

    Sexual grooming crimes have soared by a third in a year in the UK, with paedophiles increasingly exploiting Instagram to target children as young as 11, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has announced.

    Figures released to the charity under Freedom of Information laws show in the year to April 2019 there were 4,373 offences recorded of adult sexual communication with a child – which became a criminal office April 2017 – compared with 3,217 the previous year.

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

    In one case of Instagram grooming, 12-year-old Freya (a pseudonym was staying at a friend’s house when a stranger bombarded her Instagram account with sexual messages and videos.

    ​“She was quiet and seemed on edge when she came home the next day. I noticed her shaking and knew there was something wrong so encouraged her to tell me what the problem was. When she showed me the messages, I just felt sick. It was such a violation and he was so persistent. He knew she was 12, but he kept bombarding her with texts and explicit videos and images. Freya didn’t even understand what she was looking at. There were pages and pages of messages, he just didn’t give up,” Freya’s mother told the NSPCC.

    “It’s clearer than ever government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms. Despite the huge amount of pressure social networks have come under to put basic protections in place, children are being groomed and abused on their platforms every single day. 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,” Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said.

    The charity is now calling on Boris Johnson’s administration to urgently draft an ‘Online Harms Bill’, which would introduce independent regulation of social networks and tough sanctions should they fail to keep children safe on their platforms.

    “Grooming children online is a sickening crime and the government is committed to stamping it out. We have taken strong action to tackle this vile abuse, from developing AI tools to identify and block grooming conversations to our Online Harms white paper, which will place a legal duty of care on social media companies to protect their users,” a government spokesperson said.



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