ONLINE grooming crime have more than doubled in four years across the West Midlands, according to children’s charity the NSPCC.
Police forces in the West Midlands recorded 270 offences of Sexual Communication with a Child in 2021/22, up from 121 in 2017/18.
The charity said these statistics do not include the areas covered by West Mercia Police.
The NSPCC said nationally, there were 6,156 Sexual Communication with a Child offences recorded in 2021/22 – an increase on the previous year and almost 120 offences-a-week on average.
The NSPCC said Meta-owned platforms Facebook, Instagram and What’s App were used in 38 per cent of instances where the means of communication was known, while Snapchat was used by groomers more than any other platform, in a third of offences where a site was recorded.
One 15-year-old girl who was groomed on multiple sites told Childline: “I’ve been chatting with this guy online who’s like twice my age.
“This all started on Instagram but lately all our chats have been on WhatsApp.
“He seemed really nice to begin with, but then he started making me do these things to ‘prove my trust’ to him, like doing video chats with my chest exposed. Every time I did these things for him, he would ask for more and I felt like it was too late to back out.
“This whole thing has been slowly destroying me and I’ve been having thoughts of hurting myself.”
Now the NSPCC is warning record levels of online child sexual abuse seen during the pandemic have not subsided and may mean a long-term increase in risk.
The charity said the sheer scale of offending shows the vital importance of ensuring that the Online Safety Bill effectively tackles child sexual abuse and has practical suggestions for how this is best done.
This should include giving the regulator, Ofcom, the powers to proactively tackle abuse in private messaging, making platforms work together to stop grooming pathways and stopping offenders from using social networks to organise abuse.
Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “Online grooming is taking place at unprecedented levels and only concerted action will turn the tide on this tsunami of preventable abuse.
“The crucial Online Safety Bill is the opportunity to deliver the legislative change we urgently need to address head on these preventable crimes against children
“We strongly welcome the Government’s ambition to deliver world-leading legislation. But as it seems increasingly clear that the pandemic has resulted in a long-term increase in the abuse threat, the current proposals must go further now to tackle online sexual violence and prevent avoidable abuse.”