There have been more than 6,000 grooming crimes recorded in the UK in less than five years, with numbers dramatically rising in the past 12 months, Home Office statistics reveal.
The data reveals there were more than five times more reported grooming offences last year than in the previous 12 months, with children as young as two-years-old as targets.
Offences were logged by police in England and Wales from April 2013 to December 2017, and appear to be rapidly accelerating as new offences are added to the statute books.
Between April and December 2017, in the space of just eight months, there were a total of 2,996 grooming crimes recorded.
The numbers are boosted by the new offences of Sexual Communication with a Child, brought into force in April 2017, and offences for Meeting a Child After Grooming.
Campaigners Demand ‘Urgent Action’ as Child Sex Grooming Cases Rise 64 Per Cent in Just One Year
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) October 26, 2017
The statistics were highlighted by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), which is campaigning for tougher measures by government and social media firms against grooming.
According to the charity, Facebook and apps they own, including Instagram and Whatsapp, were used in 52 per cent of online grooming cases where police disclosed methods employed by suspects.
Tony Stower, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online, said: “These thousands of crimes show the sheer scale of grooming, where predators have either messaged their victim or gone on to meet them in person.
“At present, our Government is only prepared to tackle grooming after the harm has been done, and its forthcoming Internet Safety Strategy has no plans to prevent grooming from happening in the first place.
“Culture Secretary Matt Hancock could change this and bring an end to the Wild West Web. I urge him to bring in regulation for social networks, backed by an independent regulator with teeth.”
Do you think social media companies are doing enough to keep children safe online? It’s time to end the #WildWestWeb and protect our kids with a social media law. https://t.co/CGft7LKhAn pic.twitter.com/qQFNO8WW9f
— NSPCC (@NSPCC) April 25, 2018
Responding to surging levels of recorded grooming crimes in January of this year, a government spokesman commented:
“Online child grooming is an appalling crime that this government is working to tackle. We have provided law enforcement with the capabilities and resources they need to identify grooming victims and bring offenders to justice.
“Last year we provided police forces in England and Wales with more than £20 million to enable dedicated officers to operate online in forums and chat rooms, to pursue offenders.
“But companies have to take all steps possible to prevent their platforms being used to abuse children.”