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NSPCC call for more social media controls to stop grooming of children

By Ellis Stephenson

Predators used social media apps owned by Facebook to groom youngsters in Kent in half of such crimes reported.

Police confirmed 71 cases have been recorded via the new offence Sexual Communication with a Child in the last nine months.

The apps to come under the spotlight - along with Facebook itself - were Instagram and WhatsApp, which were used in 41 (57%) offences.

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Children are being targeted by predators on social media. Picture: Thinkstock
Children are being targeted by predators on social media. Picture: Thinkstock

The youngest child targeted was nine-years-old.

Some cases reported to police involved a child who had been contacted by a perpetrator using one or more sites.

The children's charity the NSPCC, which obtained the data through a Freedom of Information request, is now calling for tighter regulation of social networks.

The charity's head is asking the minister in charge of culture to control what is being dubbed the 'Wild West Web'.

NSPCC chief executive, Peter Wanless, said: "Culture secretary Matt Hancock has a golden opportunity to put an end to the Wild West Web and force social networks to protect children online.

"Facebook has shown it is happy to use data for commercial purposes, but has failed to harness data in a way that can be used to prevent grooming.

"Facebook should be leading the way, but instead it has demonstrated time and again that self-regulation isn't working and social networks can't be left to mark their own homework.

"Mr Hancock could be the person who makes the internet a safe place, for every child now and in the future. We hope he seizes the chance to do that."

"Facebook should be leading the way" - Peter Wanless

Meanwhile, police say they have dedicated resources to help keep youngsters safe.

Detective Inspector Rob Chitham, from Kent Police's Paedophile Online Investigation Team, said: "Kent Police has dedicated a significant amount of resources to help keep children safe online, a matter that is a top priority for the force.

"Specialist units proactively target offenders who are looking to abuse children, including the Paedophile Online Investigation Team that has specialist grooming and victim identification teams, and the Child Sexual Exploitation Team.

"We also invest in programmes to educate children about online risks, including ‘Chelsea’s Choice’ – a drama production that visits schools to educate children about grooming.

"Our officers also run the ‘Is it worth It?’ campaign, which sees us visit schools throughout the county to warn pupils about grooming and sharing intimate photographs.

"The chances of a child meeting someone they’ve met online are, thankfully, very low but we will continue to look for innovative ways to protect children from those seeking to do them harm."

The officer appealed for anyone worried about a child being groomed to contact the force on 101.

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