Child grooming is on the rise in Cambridgshire, according to a children's charity.
The NSPCC says in 2013/14 a total of seven reports of grooming were made increasing steadily before reaching a record high of 53 last year (2017).
More than 6,000 grooming crimes have been recorded by police in England and Wales since April 2013, new Home Office figures show.
There were a total of 2,996 grooming crimes recorded from April to December 2017, which included the new offence of Sexual Communication with a Child, brought into force in April 2017, as well as offences for Meeting a Child After Grooming.
From April 1, 2013 to December 31, 2017, Cambridgeshire Police recorded a total of 88 offences. Across England and Wales there were 6,341 offences over the last five years.
Cambridgeshire grooming offence statistics
The NSPCCs #WildWestWeb campaign is calling on culture secretary Matt Hancock to bring in a mandatory safety code to regulate social networks to keep children safe online and help prevent grooming.
Mr Hancock is in the process of drawing up an Internet Safety Strategy, but it is expected to bring in a social media safety code which is voluntary in nature and the Strategy will include no plans to prevent grooming.
Last week the charity revealed that Facebook and Facebook-owned apps, Instagram and Whatsapp, were used in 52 per cent of online grooming cases where police disclosed which methods were used by suspects.
The youngest child to be targeted in the first nine months of the new offence of Sexual Communication with a Child was just two years old.
Tony Stower, NSPCC head of child safety online, said: “These thousands of crimes show the sheer scale of grooming, where predators have either messaged their victim or gone on to meet them in person.
“At present our Government is only prepared to tackle grooming after the harm has been done, and its forthcoming Internet Safety Strategy has no plans to prevent grooming from happening in the first place.
“Culture Secretary Matt Hancock could change this and bring an end to the Wild West Web. I urge him to bring in regulation for social networks, backed by an independent regulator with teeth.”
England and Wales statistics
|Financial year||Recorded grooming offences|
*Does not include 1 Jan-31 March 2018
**Includes new offence of Sexual Communication with a Child
The Governments Internet Safety Strategy
Page 4 of the Governments consultation stipulates: "the Governments approach to the most serious online crimes […] will continue to be led by the Home Office. While these issues fall outside the scope of the strategy, appropriate links will be made".
And page 12 states: "the Internet Safety Strategy does not cover off illegal activities such as Child Sexual Exploitation or violent extremism".
Download the Cambridge News app
We've launched our very own app for Android and Apple devices which can be tailored to deliver the news and sport that you're interested in.
Find out more about the app here.
What the NSPCC wants
Within the Internet Safety Strategy, the NSPCC wants to see:
1. A PROPER CODE. At the moment the Government has no plans for the Social Network Code to tackle grooming. That needs to change.
That code should require Safe Accounts for children, with extra protections in place, such as grooming alerts.
2. A CODE, NOT A WISHLIST. Government is planning for this code to be voluntary. Voluntary isnt good enough. It needs to be mandatory, and overseen by an independent regulator.
3. CONSEQUENCES. If social networks dont follow the code, there must be fines. The code must force social networks to publish data on child endangerment reports, response times and action taken, so its clear when theyve fallen short.