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PSNI figures reveal shock 1,400% rise in child grooming

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Child grooming in Northern Ireland has surged by 1,400% in four years, it has emerged

Child grooming in Northern Ireland has surged by 1,400% in four years, it has emerged

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Child grooming in Northern Ireland has surged by 1,400% in four years, it has emerged

Child grooming in Northern Ireland has surged by 1,400% in four years, it has emerged.

PSNI figures show sexual grooming of under 18s rose from eight offences in 2014 to 120 last year.

Online sexual crimes against children increased by almost 270% in the same time period, from 66 offences to 243.

The figures come amid fears that the distraction of the Covid-19 pandemic has blunted urgent calls to address the increased risk to children online.

Last month the Department of Education launched a Safer Schools NI App, a digital safeguarding tool kit for parents, carers and teachers.

The app will now be released to children and young people who will be able to access advice on a range of digital issues, including safety on social media platforms, bullying, sexting and online challenges. It will support over 340,000 pupils and their families with pupils.

Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Ineqe Safeguarding Group, said: "Even before the lockdown it was well understood that sexual offences against our children had seen a dramatic increase.

"Children will now be spending more time online than ever before interacting with their real friends, friends of friends (who they don't really know) and absolute strangers.

"It's important not to create a culture of fear that there is a paedophile in every virtual space, but the current reality is most sex offenders are sitting at home, and most will have a computer."

The National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates that around 300,000 individuals pose a sexual threat to children.

As of 2016, there were around 1,500 registered sex offenders in Northern Ireland.

Detective Chief Inspector Gary McDonald from the PSNI's Public Protection Branch said: "While maintaining contact with children may be a challenge for all organisations during these unprecedented times, every opportunity to keep children safe must be maximised.

"If you are concerned a child has been abused online contact the PSNI on 101, the non-emergency number, or in the event of an emergency dial 999."

Belfast Telegraph