Belfast Telegraph

PSNI warn parents to be vigilant following large increase of sexual messaging with children in Northern Ireland last year

The NSPCC Northern Ireland have called for new laws to protect children after 82 crimes of sexual communication with a child were recorded by the PSNI last year.

This was a large increase on the previous year's number of 19

The NSPCC said this demonstrated the scale of potential grooming in today’s online world and need for robust action to "end the the Wild West Web".

Where the victim was identified, girls aged between 12 -15 were recorded in the majority of cases.

Following the NSPCC’s  #WildWestWeb campaign, the UK Government recently announced that laws will be brought in to regulate social networks, to keep children safe and prevent harms such as online grooming.

The charity is now campaigning to ensure those laws are sufficiently robust to truly keep children safe.

It is calling on the UK Government to create mandatory safety rules that social networks  are legally required to follow and to establish an independent regulator to enforce safety laws and fine non-compliant sites

The NSPCC also want social media sites to publish annual safety reports and to force platforms to develop technology to detect grooming using algorithms.

It comes ahead of the NSPCC’s annual flagship conference How Safe Are Our Children? which begins on Wednesday June 20th and has the theme Growing Up Online.

PSNI Detective Superintendent Deirdre Bones said the rise was due to the fact that social media helped people communicate more easily with others and created opportunities for them to commit crimes online.

"The internet can be a great place but it is important to remember there are people out there who may wish to abuse it," she said.

"For parents worried about their children using the internet, our advice is to become net-savvy. The best safeguard against online dangers is being informed. Learn the basics of the internet and find out more about social media.

"Have conversations with your children - talk to them about the benefits and dangers of the internet and social media - so that you can empower them to use both safely.

"Get to know what they're interested in online and keep an eye on what they are doing. Find out what their favourite websites or social media platforms are and what online games they play."

“It is important to remember that every single sexual message sent to a child is abuse, which can leave a lasting impact for years to come," said Policy manager for NSPCC Northern Ireland, Colin Reid.

“Social networks have self-regulated and it’s absolutely clear that children have been harmed as a result. We would urge the UK government to follow through on their promise and introduce safety rules backed up in law and enforced by an independent regulator with fining powers. Social networks must be forced to design extra protections for children into their platforms, including algorithms to detect online grooming to prevent communicating with children from escalating into something even worse.

“We would also urge our local politicians, when we gain a new executive, to think of a robust and workable E-Safety strategy to drive this forward locally. We know that the online world is not easy to regulate, but we cannot be complacent when we are talking about child abuse.”


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