34 per cent rise in cyber-related sex crimes against children in Hertfordshire
PUBLISHED: 16:12 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:12 25 June 2019
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Hertfordshire saw 43 reported sex offences against under-18s with an online element this year, a 34 per cent increase over four years.
Overall in the East of England there has been an 88 per cent rise in cyber-related sex crimes over the past four years.
A record 648 child sexual offences with an online element were logged by police forces in the region last year, compared to 345 offences in 2015/16.
Children are increasingly being targeted on the web by sex offenders, with an average of 22 crimes a day taking place online across the UK last year - almost one every hour.
The most common age of the victims was 13, but there were 185 offences committed against children aged 10 and under - including babies yet to reach their first birthday.
In Hertfordshire in 2017/18 there were six reported cases of child sex offences with an online element, in 2018/19 there were 43 - an increase of 716 per cent.
Children's charity the NSPCC, which obtained the data, fears that the figures may not reveal the true extent of the problem, for example Hertfordshire's low 2017/18 figure of six may be due to potential under-recording of the role of online in these crimes and wide logging variation across forces.
Chief Inspector Michael Trotman, who is a safeguarding vulnerable children detective at Herts police, said: "Hertfordshire Constabulary considers the online safety of children and young people of paramount importance and we take any reports of abuse extremely seriously.
"We believe the rise in the number of reports we have received in the last 12 months is largely due to increased awareness as well as improved confidence in reporting among young people, parents and society as a whole.
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"While we are doing all we can to bring those who target younger people online to justice, there are also steps they can take to help protect themselves.
"We would urge young people and parents to visit the force's website herts.police.uk for guidance and advice on using the internet safely.
"If someone says something that makes you feel upset, uncomfortable or threatened, save the messages but do not respond. Tell a parent, carer or someone you trust. Remember, it is not your fault.
"The constabulary investigate every single report of child sexual abuse we receive, and victims will always be supported throughout the whole process.
"You can report incidents online at ceop.police.uk."
The worrying figures have been revealed to coincide with the NSPCC's flagship annual conference: 'How Safe Are Our Children?', which begins today in London.
It comes just days before the government closes its consultation on its 'Online Harms White Paper', which proposes to introduce an independent regulator to enforce a legal duty of care on tech companies to keep users safe on their platforms.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC's CEO, said: "Behind each offence is a child suffering at the hands of sex offenders and, worryingly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg.
"Far too many children are drowning in a sea of online threats so it's now time for the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be, to cast out the life jacket.
"He must hold his nerve and introduce an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of abuse and harmful content."