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Online predators threaten to track down schoolgirl

By Deborah McAleese

Published 21/06/2016

The NSPCC’s Neil Anderson said the problem was on the rise
The NSPCC’s Neil Anderson said the problem was on the rise

A Northern Ireland schoolgirl was left terrified after a number of older men she met on the internet threatened to track her down, the NSPCC has said.

The girl was pestered to send naked photographs after she struck up friendship with the men on social networking sites.

It was just one of a number of frightening examples of cyber-enabled crime against children in Northern Ireland.

The internet was used as a gateway for 139 recorded sex offences against children in Northern Ireland last year, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC from the PSNI.

In 30 of those cases the victims were aged 11 and younger. The majority of offences involved 12 to 15-year-olds.

The offences reported to police included sexual assaults, grooming victims before meeting them and inciting children to take part in a sex act.

According to the NSPCC, ChildLine in Belfast received a call from a schoolgirl, aged between 12 and 15, who said that she had been talking to older men online.

She told the charity: "It started off being really fun, but now some of them keep sending me messages asking to send pictures without my clothes on.

"Some of them are even threatening to come and find me. I'm really worried they could be being serious."

The information was revealed as the NSPCC launched its state-of-the-nation annual report, How Safe Are Our Children?

The charity has called on all UK police forces to make sure they have the resources to ensure officers understand how sex offenders abuse the internet to carry out crimes against children and how to investigate and record such crimes effectively.

Figures obtained by the NSPCC show that across the UK the internet was used as a gateway to commit over 3,000 sex crimes against children last year.

"These figures confirm our fears that the internet is playing a significant role in the sexual abuse of children both here and in the rest of the UK," said Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC in Northern Ireland.

"It's clear that many of the sexual offences against children have an online element. Children are increasingly telling our ChildLine service how they are being targeted online."

Mr Anderson also warned: "We should not assume those who would harm children online are low-risk.

"Predatory adults are posing as children to try and meet them or blackmail them into performing sexual acts on webcams, which obviously terrifies them and can leave some of them feeling suicidal."

He also urged the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that appropriate support and protection was available to all children who have been affected by online abuse, as part of the e-safety strategy being developed by The Safeguarding Board.

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