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Sexual grooming in Kent up 15% as children's Instagram accounts targeted

The number of children being groomed for sex online has increased.

Kent Police data revealed the force has recorded 262 instances of grooming - most of which came in the last year.

KMTV reported on the recent figures

Figures for 2018/19 revealed there were 140 offences of sexual communication with a child in Kent, a rise of 15% from the previous year, when there were 122.

The NSPCC says one in five offences nationwide were against children aged 11 or under.

It also claims the number of grooming instances on Instagram has doubled.

In November KentOnline revealed a Maidstone based Instagram account targeting girls under 16 was allowed to stay active.

Overall in the last two years, Facebook-owned apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp) and Snapchat were used in two thirds of the instances where police recorded and provided the communication method.

The mother of murdered 14-year-old Breck Bednar speaks out about Snapchat

Lorin LaFave, of Deal, lost her son Breck Bednar, 14, when he was murdered in 2014 by after being groomed through online gaming.

Last January his sister Chloe, 17, received sickening messages via Snapchat, recounting her brother’s killing in graphic detail.

Ms LaFave now said: "It is upsetting that these numbers continue to go up and we need to finish with that.

"It's that interacting with strangers and everyone online is a stranger. It doesn't mean they're all bad, it means we don't know who they are.

"We need a regulator, we need something that changes the way our social media lives are moving along.

"Young people have been engaging online with people that they don't recognise, they don't realise the dangers that are there.

"Education is key but also social media companies need to put more investment into ensuring that people who continually abuse children that they are not allowed back on these platforms.

"They have the power and technology to do this and we need their help.

"If they won't give their help then we need government to forcethem."

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “It’s now clearer than ever that Government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms.

“Despite the huge amount of pressure that social networks have come under to put basic protections in place, children are being groomed and abused on their platforms every single day.These figures are yet more evidence that social networks simply won’t act unless they are forced to by law. The Government needs to stand firm and bring in regulation without delay.”

The Government has indicated it will publish a draft Online Harms Bill early next year.

The proposals would introduce independent regulation of social networks, with tough sanctions if they fail to keep children safe on their platforms.

The NSPCC's statistics

Susie Hargreaves, CEO of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: "Exactly one third of all the reports the IWF has actioned so far this year are of ‘self-generated content’ - captures of livestreamed sexual abuse imagery where children have been groomed and coerced into performing sexually over webcam, mostly affecting girls aged between 11 and 13 years old.

"Sexual predators no longer need to have in-person contact with a child; they can meet them online and encourage this behaviour. Most often, we see this happening in a home – we have seen videos where a parent or carer is knocking on the bedroom door to call the child down to dinner, whilst the child is in the process of being groomed into performing.

"The IWF deals with instances of children performing sexually on their webcam roughly 100 times a day. From January 1 to June 30 2019, we have dealt with 22,484 reports of self-generated child sexual abuse material – of the content featuring girls, 85% were aged 11 to 13 years old, and 68% of the content featuring boys were aged 11 to 13 years old. This is fast becoming a national crisis."

The NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign is calling for social media regulation to be proactive in stopping children being groomed by:

  • Using Artificial Intelligence to detect suspicious behaviour
  • Sharing data with other platforms to better understand the methods offenders use and flag suspicious accounts
  • Turning off friend suggestion algorithms for children and young people, as they make it easier for groomers to identify and target children
  • Design young people’s accounts with the highest privacy settings, such as geo-locators off by default, contact details being private and unsearchable and livestreaming limited to contacts only.
  • The charity wants to see tough sanctions for tech firms that fail to protect their young users – including steep fines for companies, boardroom bans for directors, and a new criminal offence for platforms that commit gross breaches of the duty of care.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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