Belfast Telegraph

55% spike in Northern Ireland grooming cases sparks call for web crackdown

Sexual grooming crimes against children in Northern Ireland have jumped by 55% in the last year, the latest figures obtained by the NSPCC reveal
Sexual grooming crimes against children in Northern Ireland have jumped by 55% in the last year, the latest figures obtained by the NSPCC reveal

By Gillian Halliday

Sexual grooming crimes against children in Northern Ireland have jumped by 55% in the last year, the latest figures obtained by the NSPCC reveal.

A total of 127 offences of sexual communication with a child were recorded by the PSNI between 2018 and 2019.

In the previous year 82 offences were recorded, according to statistics which were published today.

The figures date back to February 2017 - the offence came into law here nearly three years ago following a campaign by the NSPCC.

The rise in Northern Ireland grooming crimes has prompted the children's charity to call for legislation to protect younger people online to be prioritised.

The charity has stressed that these figures do not reflect the true scale of the issue, as the offences often go unreported or undetected.

Data from 43 police forces in England and Wales also revealed that they have seen an increase of just over 30% for the same offence.

According to the figures, 4,373 offences of sexual communication with a child were recorded in 2018-19, compared with 3,217 the previous year.

Research by the NSPCC has also uncovered that apps and social media sites such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat were used in around 705 of police-recorded crimes where the communication method was provided.

Proposed Government legislation the Online Harms Bill, which includes plans to introduce independent regulation of social media networks, is likely to be published early next year following the charity's Wild West Web campaign.

The NSPCC is calling for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose tough sanctions on tech firms which fail to protect their young users, including steep fines for companies, boardroom bans for directors and a new criminal offence for platforms that commit gross breaches of the duty of care.

Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC Northern Ireland, said it was a matter of urgency for the Government to act.

"Despite the huge amount of pressure that social networks have come under to put basic protections in place, children are being groomed and abused on their platforms every single day," he said.

"These figures are yet more evidence that social networks simply won't act unless they are forced to by law. The Government needs to stand firm and bring in regulation without delay."

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