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Children young as seven asked to strip by strangers on video chat sites

PUBLISHED: 12:25 17 October 2018 | UPDATED: 12:25 17 October 2018

One in six of the regions children reported chatting with strangers on screen over the internet (stock image)  Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

One in six of the regions children reported chatting with strangers on screen over the internet (stock image) Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

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Lessons on staying safe from sex abuse should be as common as teaching children to cross the road, a children’s charity has urged, after figures revealed 168 offences were recorded against four to eight-year-olds in Suffolk since 2015.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said the figures highlighted the importance of equipping parents to discuss staying safe from sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, the charity’s Wild West Web campaign is calling for the creation of an independent social network regulator after one in six of the region’s children reported chatting with strangers on screen over the internet with more than one in seven of them being asked to undress.

Figures gathered by the charity through Freedom of Information requests to every territorial police force in the UK showed there had been 6,613 recorded sexual offences against children aged four to eight in 2016/17.

But numbers could be higher, according to the NSPCC, which was provided data broken down by individual year of age by only 32 of 45 forces.

In Suffolk, there were 84 sex crimes against four to eight-year-olds recorded by Suffolk police in 2016/17 – the same number as recorded the previous year.

Nationally, where police data allowed an annual comparison, the figures showed a 13% increase in offences against children aged four to eight.

The figures were released as the NSPCC relaunched its ‘Talk PANTS’ campaign ahead of the half term school holiday – aiming to help parents of young children have conversations about staying safe from sexual abuse.

The campaign includes a song and activity pack, with cartoon dinosaur Pantosaurus, which exclude references to the words ‘sex’ or ‘abuse’ to make it easier for parents to tackle the subject.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “We know that lots of parents have already used Talk PANTS to speak to their children about the dangers they may face from sexual abuse as they grow up, both in the online and offline world.

“However, the figures show that we all need to do more to help young children learn how to stay safe from sexual abuse – these conversations should be as normal as teaching them to cross the road.”

A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “Responding effectively to reports of child sexual abuse is a high priority for Suffolk Constabulary and there has been substantial investment in investigators and support services across the county.

“More resources than ever are being directed to deal with these reports. Working effectively with partners in the public and charitable sectors, our combined aim is to prevent harm to those being abused, to safeguard vulnerable children and young people and to bring offenders to justice.”

Talk PANTS launched in July 2013 and was previously known as ‘The Underwear Rule’ campaign.

The PANTS acronym stands for Privates are private; Always remember your body belongs to you; No means no; Talk about secrets that upset you; Speak up, someone can help.

Campaign packs are available from the charity’s online shop for a suggested donation of £5.

•The NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign is calling for the creation of an independent social network regulator after one in six of the region’s children said they had video-chatted with a stranger.

A poll of 1,196 children aged seven to 16 in the East of England revealed 23% had livestreamed and 16% had video-chatted with someone they had never met.

Of those, more than one in seven had been asked to get undressed during a video chat, and almost one in 10 were asked to remove clothes during a livestream.

The NSPCC wants a social network regulator to ensure livestreaming and video chat sites have real-time nudity detection on children’s accounts, that children must be given ‘safe accounts’ with extra built-in protections, and that live video must be limited to contacts approved by the child.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said the popularity of livestreaming had led to a “dangerous cocktail of risks”.

“Its immediacy means children are being pressured into going along with situations that make them feel uncomfortable,” he added.

“The lure of a big audience, or thinking that they are chatting to someone they can trust, piles on that pressure. What’s really disturbing is that groomers can then screenshot or record livestreamed abuse, and use it to blackmail the child or share it with others.

“We urge the public to sign our petition calling on Government to introduce tough regulation of social networks to make sure measures are in place to protect children from abuse over livestreaming and video chat.”

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