Online grooming must not be underestimated say campaigners, as 55 instances reported in just six months
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Campaigners have urged parents not to underestimate online sexual predators after data published by the NSPCC has revealed that 55 instances of sexual communication with children were reported in Suffolk and Essex in the last six months.
Following a successful campaign spearheaded by the NSPCC six months ago, sexual communication or grooming to children was criminalised.
But data obtained by the organisation under Freedom of Information laws revealed that since that law changes there had been 28 instances in Suffolk and 27 in Essex.
The figures revealed that nationwide girls aged 12-15 were most vulnerable, and more than 30% of groomers did so via Facebook and its messenger.
Fiona Ellis, founder of Survivors in Transition, which works with adult victims of childhood sexual abuse, said: “The most important thing I can say from a support perspective is not to underestimate the effect online grooming and abuse has on an individual.
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“You mustn’t minimise it and say it was only online, nothing happened physically, because it can be as bad – it can definitely be a barrier to people getting support.”
Suffolk police cybercrime supervisor Charlotte Driver said phones, laptops, tablets and computers which allowed online access made social media a potential “playground for predators”, and said the growing challenges made it tough to curb.
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She added: “Most young people live their lives through social media and being online. This can create a false sense of security, for example, chatting online is completely different to chatting to someone face to face.”
Suffolk officers said they worked with schools to help educate children, while Essex Police said it had specialist teams, as well as ongoing work with software developers to help improve algorithms that could flag up problem content earlier.
Detective Chief Inspector Jon Burgess added: “Protecting children is a top priority for Essex Police and those who choose to abuse them will be caught and will be dealt with.
“We will always use the tools available to us to keep children safe and any legislation which helps to identify and arrest offenders is welcome.”
The data showed that just over 12% of instances happened in person, via text or phone, while the rest used some kind of online platform.
Karen Lawson, founder of Huddl, which works to educate parents and carers on the dangers of their children’s online use, said helping them understand was the “missing link”.
She said: “Telling parents and carers to educate themselves so they can educate their children better is key.
“It’s a new found problem and it changes daily.”
Ms Lawson encourages parents to use the social media their children use, and talk to their children over staying safe.