Police reports of online child sex crimes rise by a fifth in Yorkshire in just one year

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Pressure is mounting over tech giants’ duty of care to protect young people as new figures reveal reports of online child sex offences in Yorkshire have risen by nearly a fifth in a year.

Thursday, 3rd September 2020, 6:00 am The NSPCC is calling on Government to push forward with its Online Harms Bill. Child pictured is a model.

Image: Tom Hull. Data obtained by the NSPCC suggests the region’s forces logged 1,758 such crimes – nearly five every day – including grooming and sexual assault in 2019/20, an annual increase of 18 per cent. With Childline counselling sessions over grooming having risen in recent months, there are concerns the figures – dating to March – detail a rising risk to children even before lockdown began.

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Now, the NSPCC is piling pressure on Government to push forward with its promised Online Harms Bill, which would place a legal Duty of Care on tech firms in protecting children.

While the bill was published last year the consultation response is yet to be produced, and the charity has called for plans to be finalised and made law by the end of 2021. “These figures suggest that online abuse was already rising before lockdown, and the risks to children appear to have spiked significantly since,” said Andy Burrows, NSPCC head of child safety online policy. “It is now almost 17 months since the Government’s original proposals for social media regulation were published and children continue to face preventable harm online.

“At the Hidden Harms Summit, the Prime Minister signalled he was determined to act. That’s why he needs to prioritise making progress on a comprehensive Online Harms Bill this Autumn, and pass legislation by the end of 2021, that sees tech firms held criminally and financially accountable if they put children at risk.” Child groomed over online game

The figures, analysing data from 46 forces across the UK, found a 16 per cent rise nationwide, and come amid changing ways in which such crimes have been recorded in recent years. In South Yorkshire reports of such crimes rose 36 per cent, in North Yorkshire it was 34 per cent, and in West Yorkshire 14 per cent. Humberside saw a slight fall in reports, of four per cent.

One mother from Yorkshire has spoken of her daughter’s experience after she was groomed and sexually exploited through an online game from the age of six-years-old. The abuser gained the child’s trust before threatening her into sending her explicit images. “He would threaten to expose her if she didn’t do as she was told, that he would even put her in a ‘shallow grave’ or kill us, her parents,” said the mother.

“As she got older, she is now 14, she began to struggle. Her behaviour changed, she became angry, depressed and would cry without really knowing why. “She found it incredibly hard to make herself go into school and would ring me in tears, not knowing why she couldn’t go through the door.

“It was horrible, I felt so helpless when she talked about self-harming and not wanting to go on living.” The NSPCC has been campaigning for a Duty of Care on tech firms since the launch of its Wild West Web campaign in 2018, publishing a set of regulatory proposals. A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said it will likely continue to see an increase in reporting as victims’ confidence in coming forward grows, while more through recording processes are in place nationwide to ensure such crimes are captured.

“We want children to feel able to report abuse that is happening to them,” they said. “This data demonstrates the bravery of children coming forward and reporting crimes, and the work of police and partners to encourage reporting, identify offences and support victims.” The Home Office has been approached for comment. Adults concerned about a child online can contact the NSPCC Helpline confidentially for advice and support on 0808 800 5000 or email [email protected]

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