Cambridgeshire children as young as eight are being sexually groomed on Snapchat and Instagram.
A total of 44 offences of sexual communication with a child were recorded by police in Cambridgeshire between April 3, 2017, and January 3, 2018.
The youngest victim was just eight years old, an investigation by the NSPCC children's charity has revealed.
An NSPCC spokesperson for the east of England said: “Its crucial that young people are educated about abuse from an early age, which is why the NSPCC spoke to over 29,000 primary school children in Cambridgeshire last year about recognising and reporting abuse.”
Snapchat was the most common app for children to be groomed on, with six cases recorded cases between April last year and January. Five more offenses were carried out via instagram, four on Facebook, and two on Whatsapp.
Nationwide, over 1,600 cases of Sexual Communication with a Child were recorded, with the youngest victim aged just two.
Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp were used in 52 per cent of online grooming cases where methods of communication were disclosed by police, according to the figures gathered by the NSPCC via Freedom of Information requests.
However, the final figure could be much higher, as some forces have only produced six months' worth of data, and no figures have been provided by the Metropolitan Police at this time.
Culture Secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has been encouraged to tackle the problem, with the NSPCC calling for an independent regulator for social networks, grooming alerts, and to be forced to disclose the number of safety reports the social medium will get.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has a golden opportunity to put an end to the Wild West Web and force social networks to protect children online.”
He continued: “Mr Hancock could be the person who makes the internet a safer place, for every child now and in the future. We hope he seizes the chance to do that.”
A plan of action
As part of its #WildWestWeb campaign the NSPCC is calling for Mr Hancock to bring in:
- An independent regulator for social networks with fining powers
- A mandatory code which introduces Safe Accounts for children; grooming alerts using algorithms; and fast-tracking of reports to
moderators which relate to child safety
- Mandatory transparency reports forcing social networks to disclose how many safety reports they get, and how they deal with those reports